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The NFL has set its regular season schedule to begin Sept. 10 when the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Houston Texans in the 2020 opener.

As of now, the league has not changed that date, but of course, the COVID-19 pandemic could impact the league’s plans.

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It’s unknown what the COVID-19 situation will look like in the United States by the time September rolls around. Many states have seen a spike in cases after slowly re-opening local economies over the last few weeks. States such as Florida and Texas have been hit particularly hard of late.

In the latest episode of the “Next Pats Podcast”, NBC Sports Boston’s Patriots insider Phil Perry talks with Helen Boucher, MD, who is the Chief of the Division of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center. They discussed the challenges the NFL faces in returning to play, what the likelihood is to have sports come back, and much more. 

There’s been a lot of talk in recent months about a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall/winter, which is typically when influenza and other viruses are more prevalent. How could a second wave of COVID-19 impact sports coming back?

“We are in the first wave in the United States,” Dr. Boucher said. “Based on what we’re seeing in the southern hemisphere, in places like Brazil and Guatemala, they’re in their winter respiratory season now and it’s not going so well. COVID is running rampant down there. So I think we have to be concerned that we will see a second wave next fall and that we’ll have both COVID and influenza, and other respiratory viruses coming all at once.

“So, many people are making plans to try to squeeze things in, like college, for example. Colleges and universities, many have come out with plans to have kids back a week or two early and then send them home at Thanksgiving and finish the semester via remote learning. People are thinking that way in anticipation of a second wave. And to come back to our earlier discussion — plan for success, but I think it’s very prudent to think about trying to get things in that window of better weather before the other viruses re-emerge for the season.”

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Would it make sense to push back the start of fall/winter sports to later in the winter or even the spring of 2021? 

“It’s certainly an option,” Dr. Boucher said. “We’re hoping for a vaccine at some point, and there’s been a lot of talk, very optimistic talk. Dr. (Anthony) Fauci himself talked about maybe having access to a vaccine as soon as the end of 2020, which is very optimistic. I think it’s more likely that we would see it during the beginning of 2021, more like closer to a year from now. But if a vaccine became available, that would be a game-changer. That would really change, no pun intended, the sports world and a lot of other parts of our life.

“I think the focus of a lot of folks now is on what can we do in the short term when things are better. Things are better here (in Massachusetts), we’re fortunate at the moment. So these are hard decisions and often they came back to the financial aspect. So that’s way out of my league in terms of my expertise, but it’s a very reasonable question and I think it’s likely that by the spring of next year we will have more therapies available. We certainly have reason to believe we’ll be better at treating the disease. We’re learning a lot about treating the disease, not just with medicines but with other therapies and the way we take care of people. I’m optimistic that by next spring things will be better, but there’s no guarantee.”

For more of Dr. Boucher’s conversation with Phil Perry, check out the Next Pats Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or watch on YouTube below:

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