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.
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 U.S. 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 U.S. states where COVID-19 cases have recently surged.
The MLS is scheduled to return on July 8 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.
Los Angeles Angels general manager Billy Eppler said two players had tested positive for COVID-19, but did not disclose if they were on the major league roster, citing medical privacy law, the LA Times reported.
In Tampa, the NHL Lightning closed their arena after three players tested positive.
The NHL on Friday said that since June 8, 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 9, 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.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, additional reporting Amy Tennery, Rory Carroll and Simon Jennings. Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Michael Perry and Jane Wardell)