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Memphis News & Weather | Memphis, TN | WATN - localmemphis.com

Infectious disease expert on the challenges ahead for college football season

Dr. Manoj Jain says if fans are permitted at games, they must comply with with masks, social distancing "otherwise it will not work".

MEMPHIS, Tenn — In an interview with CNN this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci cast doubt on any football being played this fall, unless players enter a "bubble" environment.

College football programs are already managing outbreaks at team workouts. Thirteen players tested positive this week at Texas, 23 were reported at Clemson.

"I wish there was a playbook for what to do," said infectious disease expert Dr. Manoj Jain, M.D., M.P.H. "We have never been in this situation before, so we'll have to learn."

The University of Memphis announced there were zero positive tests through the first week of workouts. Dr. Jain says schools need to be prepared for positive cases to happen.

"We do expect that we are going to get players that are going to be positive because the players are coming from the community," he said. "We know that in general, 1-in-200 people in the community are going to be positive."

While an isolated bubble may be a safer option, frequent testing may be the most realistic solution.

"We cannot have it 100-percent safe," he said. "We know that, and so we need to supplement that with testing. "

Then there is the subject of fans. The U of M recently announced they may only be able to accommodate season-ticket holders at their games. Loyal fans like Bob Byrd, a season-ticket holder since 1971, knows the situation is ever-evolving.

"I have great faith in [Dr. M. David Rudd], Laird Veatch and all of their team out there, that they will establish appropriate, sensible, science-driven protocols in determining how and when the University of Memphis football season occurs," Byrd said.

If fans are allowed at games, Dr. Jain says they must do their part to minimize the spread.

"The fans must follow the instructions for social distancing and masking, otherwise it will not work," he said.

"Yes, there is a risk, but we have to work with what is manageable and what is an acceptable risk."

Dr. Jain estimated that in a crowd of 10,000 people, even 50 percent of fans complying could mean the difference between roughly 600 people contracting COVID-19.