By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

On June 24, the San Jose Earthquakes were the first Major League Soccer team to enter the “bubble.” As of July 1, eight teams (and their limited staff) were testing, training, and testing some more on the grounds of the ESPN Wide World of Sports. They’ll come face to face on July 8, in the first matches since the pandemic put the season on pause nearly four months ago. 

However, as MLS stages a comeback, COVID-19 has yet to take a break.

While much of Europe, Asia, and South America have resurrected their sports seasons (albeit without fans and with strict protocols in place) and other aspects of daily life, the United States is coming out of the shutdown in fits and starts. With many states slowly getting back to business, the major sports (soccer, basketball, baseball, football, hockey) want in, as well. 

Most professional sports leagues have looked to hub or regional models for the quickest restart, limiting athletes’ travel and interaction with the public to reduce exposure. The U.S. certainly has the infrastructure to do so, with multiple sports and lodging complexes to choose from, but staging such events adds stress to an industry that is already stretched thin. Not to mention the risk to the athletes themselves.

Major League Soccer has landed in Orlando en masse at the worst possible moment. Florida continues to break its own daily total case records. And contrary to the assurances of the White House, the curve is far from flat.

Image courtesy of WorldMeters
Image courtesy of WorldMeters

While all players, coaches and staff will be buttoned into a ‘bubble’ at the Disneyland and ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, the dangers outside of those gates cannot be ignored. Hotel and other staff are not required to test or quarantine, creating ample opportunity for the already fragile ‘bubble’ to be pierced.

On Monday, just hours after FC Cincinnati players checked into the ‘bubble,’ Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced a positivity rate (the percentage of positive tests out of the total tests processed) of 15.3 percent in Orange County (compare to a national average of 7.6 percent reported by the CDC for the week ending June 20), with 6,208 new cases reported in the previous 14 days. Mayor Demings’ top goals for the week: stop the spread and increase contact tracing. 

It sounds so simple. Slowing the spread is as easy as wearing a mask and limiting movements. Contact tracing means that potential hotspots can be identified and eliminated early. Unfortunately, the tourist season seems to have shifted priorities.

As the nation weighed in on the choices that led to the Orlando Pride withdrawing from the NWSL Challenge Cup and watched former Presidents show their masked faces, an experienced medical provider in Orange County, Florida took time out of their day off to describe the situation on the ground.

Switch the Pitch is concealing our source’s identity, but her experience speaks for itself: 26 years in emergency and urgent care settings. The email Q & A follows, with limited editing for length and clarity. References are provided.

What have you observed over the last few months and, more specifically, the last few weeks? What kind of influx are you expecting in the near future?

We had a massive decline when the COVID outbreak started as people were afraid to leave their house and also testing was only done for people with symptoms. This I feel was wrong. Testing should have been done immediately and on everyone. We are lagging behind and I have yet to see any contact tracing. As of three weeks ago, we test anyone. Now we are seeing 100 to 150 people a day. This is madness. Yesterday I saw 86 people in 12 hours. That is 1 patient every 8 minutes. Crazy!

What is the attitude toward the virus in the general public right now? Are you running into any resistance from patients regarding COVID precautions and diagnoses?

The general attitude I am seeing is people believe the virus isn’t that bad. They go out to restaurants, bars and parks like they normally would. No social distancing, no masks. Going to Universal and waiting to sign up to go to Disney. Visitors from other states crowding the beaches and the number of swabs I have done for people traveling to the Bahamas is amazing. I have heard of COVID parties where they invite people with positive tests so they can catch it and get over it. Going out on boats to tie up together and have fun but that’s safe cause no one goes out if they are sick, lol. We are seeing many asymptomatic cases. Yes, you have no symptoms, yes you can still spread it. No, that isn’t a green light to go out and party. People are still becoming sick and requiring vents or ICU admission. Yet they still go out and still go to work. [In the hospital] we are yelled at because they have to wait, because the nasopharyngeal swab hurts, because the results are not instantly available, and my favorite is because they have to wear a mask. I was told I get paid to be exposed.

I was told I get paid to be exposed.

What are your biggest concerns with a return of tourism and events like the MLS tournament? And what should our concerns be?

Tourism is major revenue for Orlando and Florida. Now imagine it is 90 degrees, sunny, 100% humidity and you are in a park with little shade, no cooling areas and are wearing a mask. Heatstroke and heat exhaustion are rising. I love Disney and Universal, but I am not suicidal enough to attempt that in the summer. Welcome NBA and MLS. Play your games. Get tested every other day. (By the way, where are they getting these rapid tests, and can I have some?) But remember the hotel staff is not checked, the waiters are not checked, the Uber drivers are not checked. The people who will watch these games over televised settings are now spreading the virus. These players are compensated at a huge rate. And yes, they are talented to do what they do. Medical providers are not even in that league but we are paid to risk our lives so they can play. I have not been tested once during this whole crisis. In fact, we are encouraged NOT to be tested.

Welcome NBA and MLS. Play your games. Get tested every other day… But remember the hotel staff is not checked, the waiters are not checked, the Uber drivers are not checked.

There are recent reports stating Florida officials have demanded that numbers be changed to project a better outlook. In your opinion, has the pandemic been misrepresented and how has that affected the current situation? What are the long-term effects or dangers of misrepresenting this virus?

Are they under reporting the statistics?  Yes. We want the tourists. We need the jobs and want to appear as a safe place to come and enjoy. I have not heard of anyone doing contact tracing. I have not even been notified of any positive cases I have contact with. What will this entail? More infections with greater spread range. Come to Florida and take COVID home. We cannot get control of the spread if we don’t follow the guidelines. Yes, they suck. But it’s better than sucking on a vent tube. Yes, they are inconvenient but if we would all just adhere to the guidelines for a while then we can get control. We can make a difference[…] But MLS, NBA, baseball and racing…Play your games, we will continue to clean up the mess.

I have just finished 10 days in a row and have swabbed 60-70 people a day. Yesterday I almost had to have my son come drive me home because I wasn’t sure if I could drive. I would like to see people be responsible.  My life is important to me. I may be older, but I have things I want to do yet. I would like to have PPE. Not cheap gloves that tear or gowns that dissolve if you sneeze on them. I would like N-95 masks. I bought my own and was told I couldn’t wear it. Fire me. I was offered $35,000.00 to go to NY and work for 3 weeks. Sounds like a lot of money, right? But that’s 35k to possibly die. That’s what my life is worth? 35k? Several months ago, a researcher was vilified for suggesting we test the COVID vaccine in Africa. Last week human trials started. Where? In Africa and Brazil. I will volunteer for human trials.

I may be older, but I have things I want to do yet. I would like to have PPE. Not cheap gloves that tear or gowns that dissolve if you sneeze on them. I would like N-95 masks. I bought my own and was told I couldn’t wear it.

The scariest thing about this virus may be that we do not know what kind of ‘mess’ we will be cleaning up. While many are quick to point out that older and sicker demographics see the most deaths, researchers are learning more about the broad impacts the virus has had on its younger and healthier victims. People who were previously in peak physical condition are suffering from a myriad of symptoms: neurological problems, DVT blood clots, fibrosis of the lungs, and even kidney, pancreas, and liver damage.

Professional soccer players may be the most likely to beat the virus, but they also have the most to lose. Avid athlete Ahmad Ayyad of Washington, DC is recovering from COVID-19 and perhaps said it best in a recent interview with CNN, “Take it seriously. It’s not a joke. It can kill you, even if you think you’re healthy and immune to it. You’re not.”

With eight teams on the ground (San Jose, Orlando, Dallas, Columbus, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Chicago and Miami) and training, the league appears determined to go through with the tournament. However, with six FC Dallas players sent to quarantine on the morning of July 1, and the inevitable announcement of more positive tests — made via cut-and-paste press releases that provide more questions than answers — one has to wonder how far this experiment will go and how it will impact those outside of the bubble.

July 3, 2020: This story has been updated to list Jerry Deming as mayor of Orange County, not Orlando. An earlier version of this story listed him as the mayor of the city of Orlando; Buddy Dyer is the mayor of the city of Orlando.

Featured image: MLS

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @bcmcdowell

Check us out on Twitter: @SwitchThePitch1 and Instagram: @SwitchThePitch1


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