In the discussions about when and how to return to football, one of the biggest issues, and one without the fewest answers so far, is what to do when a player contracts COVID-19 — because make no mistake, this disease, like the various types of flu, is here to stay. We can mitigate it, we can hope to contain it, but defeating it altogether is probably not going to happen, at least not for a while (12-18 months optimistic projection for widespread vaccinations with a vaccine that doesn’t even exist yet).
As with most things in this battle, we look to Germany, since they’re (literally) ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with and recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. Bundesliga teams were the first in Europe to return to training (other than Belarus, who never stopped), and unsurprisingly, one of them are the first to have confirmed new cases of COVID-19 as well.
On Friday, 1.FC Köln confirmed that three of their staff tested positive. They were showing no symptoms, but because of the mandatory and frequent testing of all personnel involved (a basic requirement for any sort of training or playing, or resumption of society for that matter), the cases were flagged early when the entire team were tested on Thursday.
So what happens now?
As confirmed by the team, those three people have now gone into a mandatory 14-day quarantine at home. But everyone else has carried on. (The Bundesliga do not have a firm date for resuming games yet, but they’re targeting May 16 at the moment.)
While that may seem counterintuitive after the widespread lockdowns all around the world, that’s precisely what frequent testing enables. We can, in theory, quarantine the infected and allow everyone else to keep training, playing, working.
“We now see in everyday life that our concept recognizes and reduces risks at an early stage. We will always be in close contact with the responsible health authorities and medical experts. We are convinced that with our concept we can enable the players to practice their profession with the best possible protection against infection.”
-Dr. Tim Meyer; source: 1.FC Köln via Google Translate
So that’s all and well, but one does wonder what would happen if a player contracted it. Do we just consider it an “injury” and let the rest of the team carry on? After all, that’s what we do with any other illnesses already...
“The health and privacy of our players and employees has priority over all other considerations. The previous measures as well as the strategy of regular tests have proven themselves so that we can now react with individual solutions. “
-Horst Heldt, director; source: 1.FC Köln via Google Translate
As with other facets in dealing with this situation, this answer is unlikely to make everyone happy, but this is our new reality ... whether we’re talking about now or September, or even six months down the road. We’re going to have to learn to live with it, deal with it, and respond to it without shutting everything down every time.