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Health experts weigh in on NFL draft safety, no official announcement regarding guest capacity

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Posted at 10:28 PM, Apr 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-12 23:13:15-04

CLEVELAND — Spring is officially here and as more Ohioans get vaccinated, festivals, ball games, and outdoor dining are making a comeback.

Monday, the nation's top infectious disease expert said he thinks outdoor events are safe as long as people are following COVID-19 guidelines.

“I would not hesitate to go to an outdoor baseball game,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “I’m someone that is a bit risk-averse, but I would not hesitate to sit in an open stand and watch the Nats play at all. I would not hesitate to do that.”

However, some people have questions about the NFL draft coming to Cleveland in just two weeks.

Rewind just two months ago to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, FL.

“There were a couple of things that they did here at the Super Bowl, which I think really helped things. Tampa held a whole lot of outside public events, but they were all basically held outside or in the dome down there with really careful social distancing,” Dr. Thomas Unnasch said. “Apart from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who won the Super Bowl, the other team didn't really come into town until like two days before the Super Bowl. That kind of limited the amount of partying and external stuff that was going on.”

Unnasch is an infectious disease expert at the University of South Florida and worked closely with the NFL to lay out guidelines for the big game.

“We only saw a little bit of a blip after the Super Bowl, a lot less than what we would have expected, and it declined very quickly,” Unnasch said.

However, he said the NFL draft isn’t quite apples to apples when it comes to COVID-19 for a number of reasons.

“I’m not really quite sure what Cleveland is doing in terms of limiting the participation of people in the draft. The place where things didn't go as well, I think, were when they opened up the bars. The bars were all open and sort of like your Flats, we have Ybor City down here and they've gotten crowded,” Unnasch said. “We were still dealing with the Italian variant, the Milan variant when we had the Super Bowl. Now we've got the U.K. variant that's much more infectious. There was a lot more of a concern, I think, about travelers coming in and getting infected here and bringing them back home to places like Ohio than there was about travelers bringing the infection in.”

Several Clevelanders told News 5 they look forward to the draft putting Cleveland on the map, but will still take precautions when they attend draft events.

“I’m not going to let it stop me, but being careful is the most important thing,” Al Houston said. “I don't have a concern long as I’ve got a mask and everybody else has a mask.”

John McNelis is considering attending outdoor draft festivities because the event is within walking distance from his home.

“COVID puts a little damper on things, but with it being so close, it's something we definitely want to check out,” McNelis said. “Definitely concerned with COVID, but we'll be vaccinated by that point in time, so, you know, that kind of alleviates some of our concerns with that.”

Janette Hylton said she will attend draft festivities and isn’t at all concerned about COVID-19.

“I don't know anyone that's gotten it. I don't know anyone that's died from it. Maybe it's narrow-minded on my part, but it's just my opinion,” Hylton said. “I don't think it's as serious as some people think it is. You only got one life to live.”

While neither the NFL nor the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission has publicly announced the number of fans that will be allowed in, an NFL spokesperson said fans will be required to wear masks except for when eating or drinking.

Unnasch said the success and safety of the draft will all depend on enforcement.

“How they're going to do this indoors, how good the ventilation is going to be, how many people they're going to allow in there,” Unnasch said.

University Hospitals is working closely with the NFL and the Cleveland Browns to plan the event and deferred News 5’s specific questions to the Browns organization, but shared the following written statement:

“University Hospitals is privileged to be the medical partner for the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland, Ohio. After collaboration with the NFL and Cleveland Browns, and a thorough review of their safety activation plan, we support their efforts in providing a safe event for participants, particularly those focused on minimizing the spread of COVID-19. Details of those plans will be released in the coming days.”