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As the coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, expands its reach throughout the world, professional leagues in the United States began dealing with the possible and realistic ramifications of the fallout from the pandemic.
In a first for the United States, the BNP Paribas Open, to be held in Indian Wells, California this week, was canceled as local public health officials called for a public health emergency in the surrounding area around the tennis tournament.
“There is too great a risk, at this time, to the public health of the Riverside County area in holding a large gathering of this size,” Dr. David Agus, professor of medicine and biomedical engineering at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “It is not in the public interest of fans, players and neighboring areas for this tournament to proceed. We all have to join together to protect the community from the coronavirus outbreak.”
The announcement of the cancellation came in concert with other professional leagues, such as the NBA and NHL, to begin their preparations on how to handle the outbreak if it becomes more severe.
The NBA circulated a memo late last week that instructed teams to prepare for the possibility of playing games in empty arenas. The drastic measure would only be put in place if local health officials called for a public health emergency, much like what happened in Indian Wells over the weekend.
Also in the memo, league officials asked the teams for specific details about their own preparations in how they plan to deal with the virus for the safety of their players, employees, and fans. These suggestions included the hiring of an infectious disease expert, finding a facility that could test players or individuals who work for the team, and limiting the interaction between the team and fans and employees.
The league has worked with the CDC to create protocols that will ensure the safety of spectators and players alike and have suggested that for a temporary amount of time, that players stop signing autographs as handling pens and memorabilia could potentially pass the coronavirus to others.
The NHL is looking to shut off access to its players by removing access in the team’s locker rooms.
“We’re focused on the fact that the tightness, the crowdedness and the intimacy of postgame availability may need to be adjusted while we’re focusing on the coronavirus,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said this weekend.
While the league has stopped short in closing the locker rooms as of Sunday, a directive from the CDC or Public Health Canada could force the league to close the changing areas and also play in front of empty crowds in order to complete their regular season.
For the latest coronavirus news and how it is affecting the sports world check out our other articles on the virus here.
No professional sports teams in America have canceled games due to the coronavirus as of Monday, March 9th, 2020.
Yes, the top-flight soccer league in Italy, Serie A, held games this weekend in empty stadiums after postponing games in the days prior to the weekend.
If the outbreak worsens, then leagues hope to play games in front of empty crowds to minimize exposure of the COVID-19 to large groups of fans and spectators.
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