NIH says rapid coronavirus testing will allow Americans to attend sporting events this fall

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San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs fans look on in game action during the Super Bowl LIV game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers on February 2, 2020 at Hard Rock Stadium, in Miami Gardens, FL.

Robin Alam | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Rapid coronavirus testing, which can produce results in under an hour, will allow Americans to attend crowded sports events in time for the fall football season, a top U.S. health official said Thursday.

“We want to see Americans have a chance to have some normal experiences of enjoying life,” National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said during a coronavirus hearing with the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. “I do believe this should be possible.”

Sports fans and players across the world have been frustrated by canceled games as public health officials urge event-based businesses to temporarily close due to the coronavirus rapidly spreading across the globe. As of Thursday, the virus has infected more than 10 million people and killed at least 516,970, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

Collins told lawmakers that U.S. health officials are putting together a point-of-care coronavirus test that can give results within an hour and be administered at sporting events. 

“And I think the general sense is for athletic teams, you really need to know that, otherwise you’re going to have an outbreak that will wipe out the entire team,” he said. 

The comment by Collins came weeks after White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed doubt over the National Football League playing this year.

The NFL is reportedly optimistic it can begin its season in 2020 amid the pandemic.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day  — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci told CNN last month. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”

Scientists say the virus can spread through respiratory droplets that pass when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also spread on surfaces such as airplane seats and tray tables. Scientists and public health officials fear that fans packed in an enclosed space could be a breeding ground for the virus.

— CNBC’s Alex Harring contributed to this report. 

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