There are few things that seem quite as American as professional sports, and for many people, a return to professional sports seems like just the bit of normalcy that they need. Indeed, you have a lot of separate parties wanting to get back to packed stadiums for games, from the fans to the athletes themselves to the team staff and naturally, the owners. Indeed, for many people, the return to safe collective experiences marks our true moment of conquering COVID-19. While our made-for-TV events are a passable substitute, what needs to happen to return to those empty stadiums?
The Challenge of Stadium Sports
Part of the reason why stadium sports are the “final frontier” in terms of reopening is the incalculable vectors for infection that are present. For example, not only do you have many people in tight proximity to each other with many shared surfaces, but also settings like dining and bathrooms that are easy to infect. Mandating PPE and safe practices is also nearly impossible with the size of a stadium crowd compared to a smaller retail store or other business.
As of right now, settings that are playing without audiences, like the lauded NBA “bubble” or the UFC’s “Fight Island” seem to be doing a decent job of staving off infection while still having competition. When it comes to having actual fans involved, though, the task seems nearly impossible to manage. Granted, our testing capacity has increased over the last few months, but it’s not enough to cost-effectively screen large groups.
As of right now, the only alternatives on the table are either infrequent testing or poor screening measures, which make it easy for the virus to spread. Testing at the door would cost $100 to $200 per test, far out of the reach of your average sports fan.
Pool Testing: The Solution We Need?
However, there may be another way, the ability to possibly test large fan groups on a weekly or daily basis. The answer here is pool testing. Pool testing provides a cost-effective way to test a wider span of people and could be a boon for the sports industry.
To explain, pool testing entails combining samples from multiple people into one greater one. No viral detection means that the entire group is cleared. In theory, you could send a QR code to each fan proven to be uninfected so they could get scanned in at the stadium. If someone was positive in that group, more testing can be done to break down who exactly has it.
So, how exactly could this play out in a sports setting? Imagine daily testing for season ticket holders. Infection risk would drop rapidly because positives could get taken out of the pool for tomorrow following their diagnosis. This expands that future pool, cutting down on the number of tests and costs required. This also means more frequent general testing so those that do know they are infected can quarantine themselves. This is essential for combating community spread.
So, how is the progression going for this valuable option? The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the first use of pooled testing, and research increasingly shows that this technique is sensitive enough to detect positive cases. The larger issue right now is how to handle the logistics of collecting and processing that many samples. The best options we have right now are upcoming products that will allow people to collect and submit their own samples, including a saliva test.
Pool testing is a great option for certain segments of the population to have the testing that they need without consuming valuable resources. However, it’s going to be important to have supplemental tools to handle this logistical hassle. These same people submitting to pool testing will need to have the means to quickly show their results, especially in settings like a stadium where one asymptomatic spreader could infect many others.
At covidprecheck.net we offer the perfect complement to pool testing — the COVID PreCheck web application which you can access by clicking covidprecheck.app. Start with your self-assessment test or COVID-19 test if needed. When it shows up as negative, you or your doctor can update your status in the app, then get a personalized QR-code. This code can be scanned by stadium security or staff at any major public area to confirm that you are negative for COVID-19.