Yesterday Clemson announced they had 14 new players who had tested positive for the coronavirus. Combining that with the previous two Friday announcements this means 37 Clemson football players have now tested positive for the coronavirus. That number sounds scary, but so far of those 37 players half have been asymptomatic and the other half have had mild symptoms.
None have required hospitalization.
We don’t know whether this 37 number is all scholarship athletes or not — or even which players in particular are testing positive — but if we presume that the 37 were all scholarship players this would mean 44% of Clemson’s scholarship roster would have tested positive for the coronavirus within just three weeks of being back on campus.
Given that it’s also probable many players already had the virus before they arrived on campus, it’s fair to guess another 10-20 players have already had the virus as well. Add all that up and something interesting is at play here — the Clemson football team is close to achieving herd immunity before June is even complete.
All without a single serious health complication.
Looked at from this perspective, this could be seen as good news for college football fans and great news for Clemson Tiger fans. It would mean that by the time football camp begins in earnest Clemson players would be at limited risk of having any substantial infections during the course of the season and it would mean they would have virtually no chance of passing on infections to other teams, coaches or officials by playing in games.
Rather than being a sign of the impending corona sports apocalypse, as many fear-mongering sports media surmise daily on social media, it’s actually a positive sign about Clemson’s testing protocols. They are catching asymptomatic infections these kids might not have otherwise ever have known they had, treating these infections to get players healthy, and then returning them to campus with immunity built up to keep the virus from spreading to other students. (This presumes, of course, that being infected with the virus conveys immunity for some period of time, which the vast majority of studies have reflected is the case.)
Heck, if you assume, as I do, that coaches are always looking for a competitive advantage, wouldn’t this mean players getting infected in the summer is a massive competitive advantage? I’m already picturing Nick Saban tossing aside the latest 3-4 defensive wrinkles in favor of studying the most efficient way to create corona infections while limiting their severity. It’s the process, ‘rona chapter.
Wildly, this Clemson situation reminds me of something from my youth. If you are around my age and grew up in the South, you may remember the idea of chicken pox parties. (This was back in the time before there was a chicken pox vaccination.) The idea behind chicken pox parties was to expose kids to chicken pox at young ages, when the infection was much less severe, than if you contracted it as an adult.
So when I was a kid and my neighbor got the chicken pox, guess what my mom did? She took us right to the neighbor’s house and had us interact with those kids in the hopes we’d be exposed to the virus, get it, and then have immunity from it for the rest of our lives.
Boom, chicken pox, which was highly infectious, spread to my sister and I. Then my mom had us playing with other kids our own age to continue the spread to those kids as well. Before long every five year old I knew in our area of Nashville had chicken pox and we were all safe from more serious infections later in our life.
My mom was a microbiologist — with no desire to put my sister and I at risk at all — so I assume there was some decent medical data at the time encouraging this practice, but the concept was pretty straightforward. You can’t stop a highly infectious virus from spreading forever, so why even attempt to do so? Especially if it could lead to more dangerous results later in life?
So every kid I knew got chicken pox in their childhoods.
(The chicken pox party, I should add, was not without flawless execution back in 1985 in Nashville, Tennessee. While I was at my friend Neal’s house — we both had chicken pox in first grade and were out of school — we went out in the back yard to play with Casper, his large German Shepherd dog. My mom was on her way to come pick us up and take us to McDonald’s for lunch, which was basically the greatest thing that could happen if you were a kid in the ’85.
But before that could happen I leaned over to pet Casper’s head and he leapt up and bit me across the entire face, ripping much of my face to shreds, necessitating 56 facial stitches — which is a ton of stitches on the face for a young kid, trust me — and leaving me with the right side of my cheekbone ripped open to the bone, a big gaping hole in my right cheek, and the right side of my lip hanging open nearly to my nose as well. Fortunately I recovered and became the sexy man you know today, but I had chicken pox and a dog bit my face off, which is a pretty rough week for a kid as these things go.)
Anyway, back to the ‘rona.
Looking at the coronavirus from a data perspective, isn’t trying to stop the virus from spreading among college athletes just delaying the inevitable? Unless schools are going to quarantine all their athletes, what do you think is going to happen when a ton of young, hot girls show back up on campus? Every athlete — and college guy — is going wherever they go. To parties, to dorm rooms, to bars, to restaurants, to the library to pretend to study, you name it, the entire college campus is going to be one big petri dish of viral infection.
Put simply, it’s going to be impossible to stop the spread of the coronavirus on college campuses this fall.
So absent quarantining athletes from the rest of the campus — and there’s an argument that should happen — there’s going to be a massive amount of infections for all the teams this fall when other students come back to campus. This means the teams that were exposed in the summer will be healthier and miss less games than those that don’t get the virus this summer.
Which, in theory, would result in more wins for the teams getting exposed now.
Looked at from a gambling perspective — as I’m sure many of you are already doing as you read this article right now — this would make Clemson national title futures a tremendous value. In addition to having the best players in the ACC, Clemson might have the fewest missed games for the virus all year long too. While other, lesser teams, are forced to play their back ups due to infections, Clemson will be trotting out their starters and obliterating everyone in conference.
That’s why the Clemson football team is an interesting example of what’s likely to happen on college campuses this fall. Many kids will return to campus, many will get sick, and then almost all of them will get well, most without any significant or severe symptoms at all.
When these infections happen there will be massive pressure to shut down schools again, but if colleges and universities look at the data and stay calm they shouldn’t overreact to the rapid rise in cases. That’s because the data shows us that college kids are far more likely to die of the flu or pneumonia than they are the coronavirus and we do virtually nothing to protect kids from pneumonia or the flu every year on campus.
What’s happening with Clemson’s football team is what’s happening in many states that have opened up writ large, young people are going out to social events and catching the virus. That’s where the surge in cases is coming from, with young people who want to return to normal life and don’t fear the virus.
But, while cases are going up with young people, this is key, almost none of them are having any serious health consequences. Which is why, at least so far, overall deaths in the country continue to decline even as cases increase. (Yes, deaths are a lagging indicator, but they are a lagging indicator for infections in elderly people. Most people who are young and infected won’t have severe health consequences at all. In fact, most won’t feel anything and those that do feel something will feel like they have a 24 or 48 hour virus.)
Based on the latest data, college kids — and college athletes — are more likely to die driving to campus than they are from the coronavirus once they get there. Now that doesn’t mean college kids couldn’t infect older people, but how many people over 70 are working on college campuses? The answer should be, at least for this fall, zero.
As long as the Clemson football team doesn’t show up to work out at a nursing home gym or play a scrimmage in the front lawn of a South Carolina retirement village, their chances of infecting elderly people should be very low.
Indeed, rather than panic over young people getting the coronavirus, wouldn’t a smart social policy be encouraging the spread of the virus among young people so we can help to create herd immunity in the country at large with young people as the point of the herd immunity spear? Look, I hope we have a vaccine in the next year that works with 100% efficiency too, but until that happens what we need to do is protect nursing home residents — over half of all deaths from the coronavirus in most states are from nursing homes — in Canada it’s a staggering 82% — and the elderly.
What we don’t need to do is shut the entire country down and refuse to return to normal life.
We need to tell college kids to limit exposure to their elderly relatives during the fall semester and when they come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Because they could be asymptomatic carriers and spread it to these elderly family members). But we need to plan for massive outbreaks on most college campuses when students come back to school in August and September.
But we shouldn’t panic because it’s inevitable and virtually impossible to stop. (You can argue no college kids should come back to campus, but most college kids have better access to health care and testing on campus than they do at home. And there’s no guarantee that college kids wouldn’t get just as sick, if not more so, back home in covert parties with friends than they would on campus. At least on campus you have access to abundant daily testing and are located next to world class hospitals in the event you get truly sick.)
Once these infections start on college campuses herd immunity will start to set in among the students, limiting the overall spread of the virus as the semester continues. Which means far from being a terrifying example of why college kids can never return to campus, the health results of Clemson’s positive tests should be an encouraging one for both colleges and college athletics.
Yes, college kids will get the virus when they come back to campus, but just like with Clemson, most of them will not even know they have the virus, and the ones that do have it will have minor health issues.
Rather than panic and demand that we cancel everything, the Clemson football team should be looked at as a positive way to exist with the virus on college campuses — test vigorously, quarantine the sick, and get them back to 100% health with viral immunity to help strengthen the overall health of the herd.
Ultimately the virus is inevitable on a college campus, the panic and fear porn doesn’t have to be.