Although Major League Baseball celebrated opening day on April 1, since June, many teams have organized huge events to celebrate an unprecedented day: “Reopening Day.” In the home cities of such teams, the pandemic has abated, state governments are lifting pandemic restrictions and stadiums are preparing to lift limits on the number of spectators and resume selling tickets for all stadium seats.
For the U.S., ravaged by COVID-19, this is undoubtedly a major milestone.
Last year, MLB held just 40% of its regular games, and fans could not attend until the playoffs, when only a small number of spectators was allowed. Because of this, the league and the teams experienced huge financial losses. These restrictions were, of course, necessary while hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. were dying in the pandemic. Just imagine: in Los Angeles County alone, with a population of around 10 million, more than 1 million people were diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 20,000 people died. In an advanced city like this, where such devastation occurred, not only were professional sports affected, but even Disneyland, a landmark, was closed for a long time.
All this finally changed after vaccines became more widespread. Currently, many drug stores and superstores offer walk-in appointments for three major brands of vaccines. The government and insurance are covering the costs, and doing so even for visitors whose stays have been extended. There are also various types of lotteries open to vaccinated people. With the all-out promotion by the Biden administration, the number of people in the U.S. who have received their first shot has just reached 50%; more than 60% of adults have received their first shot, as have a quarter of children aged 12 to 18.
To further use Los Angeles as an example, for several months during the peak of the pandemic, the daily average of confirmed cases exceeded 10,000. Now, thanks to the vaccine, that number is only about 200. Last year’s World Series champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers, will open the stadium to 56,000 fans on June 15. All fans who attend that day will receive a bobblehead doll of infielder Justin Turner, the All-Star player who tested positive for COVID-19 during the World Series and then caused controversy by violating quarantine protocols. This “Reopening Day” seems like it is really about putting all the unhappiness behind us.
In terms of the population ratio, actually, the number of confirmed cases on a single day in Los Angeles and many other cities in America with baseball teams is still higher than that of Taiwan. Still, in addition to vaccinations, just regarding open outdoor spaces, studies in recent months have looked into the correlation between the spread of COVID-19 and the number of spectators at professional sports games. Most of the conclusions point to a limited impact. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe that transmission of the virus outdoors accounts for only a small percentage of cases, which is why stadiums and similar spaces can open smoothly. And once they open, some teams will designate areas for vaccinated and unvaccinated fans, or offer giveaways for people who get vaccinated onsite. These activities will all help promote vaccination.
Will a speedy reopening exacerbate the pandemic, though? Currently, in addition to lifted mask mandates and relaxed restrictions on gathering, it turns out that travel, which Americans are making up lost time for, has already caused crowded airports. Seats on popular flights are hard to get, and hotel prices have also risen, especially over the Memorial Day weekend a few days ago, when holiday crowds everywhere were as big as before. In other words, the U.S. is engaging society in an unprecedented infectious disease experiment. We will know in a few weeks whether vaccines can really allow life to return to normal.
The results of this experiment will undoubtedly be an important indicator for daily life in the future.
The author is a sports writer.