Hopes that sport in the United States might soon return to business as usual suffered a blow on Friday as athletes from golf to hockey tested positive for the novel coronavirus, triggering a shutdown of some facilities.
The PGA Tour, which only restarted last week after a three-month Covid-19-forced hiatus, confirmed its first positive test, removing Nick Watney from second-round play at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Watney said he felt symptoms of the disease when he arrived to the course and got his positive result before starting his second round. He played his first round on Thursday alongside fellow Americans Vaughn Taylor and Luke List. The result makes Watney the first golfer inside the PGA Tour's "bubble" to test positive for the disease since it returned last week in Fort Worth, Texas, where Watney also competed.
Vaughn, who will be tested again as part of the PGA Tour’s protocol, learned about Watney’s positive test midway through his second round.
“Heart started racing, got a little nervous,” a shaken Vaughn told reporters. “Just hope Nick’s doing well and we get through this.”
World number one Rory McIlroy said Watney texted him the news since the two had chatted with each other on a practice green earlier on Friday.
“We were at a distance. He was just saying, look, I hope I didn’t get too close to you,” said McIlroy. “He feels badly that he was here today at the golf course.
“I said, look, it’s fine. You never know. So I said to him, if I was in your position, I probably would have been here too. Look, at this point, you just have to concentrate on getting better and getting healthy.”
“But it sucks for him especially. You know, if you contract it, that’s fine, but then it’s the fact that who have you come into contact with, and who you might have exposed and stuff. Look, we’re still in the middle of a pandemic. Until this thing’s over, we all just have to stay vigilant and keep your distance and wear our masks if we’re going out in public and keep washing our hands.”
McIlroy accepts that it was inevitable someone was going to contract the virus. He added: “I read a thing today that by the end of the year, there’s going to be 200,000 deaths in the US alone from Covid-19. I think the consensus was someone is going to get it at some point, and Nick’s the one that’s got it, and he’s self-isolating and doing what he has to do.
“Yeah, it’s a shame, but the show goes on. We’ve got 36 holes to play at this tournament.”
Over a 24-hour period, Major League Soccer (MLS), National Football League (NFL), National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) confirmed positive tests, and those sports pondered return-to-play scenarios. Leagues are doing extensive testing for coronavirus even among players not showing symptoms.
This followed leading US health official Dr Anthony Fauci on Thursday casting doubt on whether the NFL would get on the field this season.
The MLS and NBA were paying particularly close attention to Friday’s events as many of the positive tests occurred in Florida where both leagues have announced plans to restart their seasons at Orlando’s Walt Disney World.
Florida is one of several US states where Covid-19 cases have recently surged.
The MLS is scheduled to return on July 8th with a World Cup-style tournament featuring all 26 teams. The league, which has said that the health and safety of players and staff were the priority, did not immediately respond to questions about whether the spike in Florida cases would prompt a rethink of those plans.
Inter Miami said on Thursday that one of their players had tested positive for the virus. MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies shut down their Clearwater, Florida, site after five players tested positive while just down the road in Dunedin, the Toronto Blue Jays shuttered training facilities after a player presented symptoms.
The San Francisco Giants closed their spring training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona after a visitor and one family member exhibited symptoms. The Giants said they had tested others who have been at the facility and are awaiting results.
In Tampa, the NHL Lightning closed their arena after three players tested positive. The NHL on Friday said that since June 8th, when teams were permitted to open their training facilities, over 200 players have undergone multiple tests and 11 have tested positive. All of the players who tested positive have been self-isolating, the league said.
Even the UFC, who were one of the first sports to resume operations when they staged a mixed martial arts card in Jacksonville, Florida on May 9th, are considering another shutdown in wake of the spike.
"I told you guys going into this thing, I'm always thinking about what's next," said UFC president Dana White in a report by MMA Junkie. "And I'm planning for a second shutdown, that it will happen again. I'm always thinking about the worst."