AUSTIN, Texas — Back in March, COVID-19 put the entire country on pause.
March 6 marked the day that, for the first time in its 34-year history, South by Southwest had been canceled as the City of Austin declared a local disaster due to concerns about coronavirus spreading.
Nearly one week later, on March 12, the coronavirus essentially ended all sports in a single day. Professional sports canceled or postponed its seasons, and college athletics did the same.
Fast forward to present day and we've experienced surges and flattenings of the coronavirus curve. We've shut down, reopened, limited capacity to businesses and everything in between.
Some events have vouched to return in a virtual capacity in 2021, such as SXSW announcing "SXSW Online," while others, like the incoming MLS club Austin FC, have held out optimism for the ability to hold full-capacity crowds in the spring. As the pandemic continues, it is undetermined whether or not fans will be able to fill the stadium when Austin FC hosts its first home game, or if the season will start on time. Austin FC President Andy Loughnane told KVUE the club will plan as if fans will be at the stadium for the first home game.
State law as of Dec. 2 limits stadium capacity to at least 50%. Local health leaders have urged limiting capacity to 25%.
Dr. Mark Escott, interim Austin-Travis County health authority, gave his insight as to what he expects large gatherings and events may look like in the early stages of 2021. He said even with plans to distribute coronavirus vaccinations by early next year, it’s likely that hosting those large events and festivals in early spring may still be too dangerous.
"Well, I think it's important to remember that the large events were the first thing that we turned off and will probably be the last thing we turned back on," Escott said. "But the situation ... as the vaccine becomes available, as people get the vaccine and as we move closer towards herd immunity, that risk for large surges will start to diminish."
Similarly, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told Yahoo Sports on Dec. 2 that full-capacity crowds at arenas and stadiums will be among "the last thing[s] that you're going to see” as the U.S. works toward ending the pandemic in 2021.
“We're going to be vaccinating the highest-priority people [from] the end of December through January, February, March,” Fauci said to Yahoo Sports. “By the time you get to the general public, the people who'll be going to the basketball games, who don't have any underlying conditions, that's going to be starting the end of April, May, June. So it probably will be well into the end of the summer before you can really feel comfortable [with full sports stadiums] – if a lot of people get vaccinated. I don't think we're going to be that normal in July. I think it probably would be by the end of the summer.”
Operation Warp Speed chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui said he hopes by Dec. 10 or 11, Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine will be approved in the U.S. for emergency use. British officials authorized the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use on Dec. 2, greenlighting the world’s first shot against the virus that’s backed by rigorous science and taking a major step toward eventually ending the pandemic.
"That's why it's important that folks get the vaccine. Complete their series of vaccine because we know right now that at least these initial vaccines are going to require two doses," Escott said. "The better compliance we can get with vaccination, the more likely it is that as we approach April, May, June, that will be more inclined to start approving those larger events."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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