Last night, the Texas Rangers played their home opener, the first game of the official baseball season to be held in their stadium in front of their home crowd. The event made national news because it seemed to be a return to normalcy, a packed house out to enjoy a sports game in the post-COVID-19 era.
Derisive comments about Texans immediately followed. They were in turn countered by the observation that many of the people complaining were doing so in areas where distribution of the vaccines hadn’t been as available (in Texas, anyone over the age of 17 can make an appointment and those 65 or over have head-of-line privileges – they are able to show up to anyplace giving the vaccine and automatically get placed into the queue whether or not they have an appointment) and where the virus is spreading more quickly. Republican media also jumped into the fray, pointing out that the left had little room to talk about public gatherings:
The problem with all of these arguments is that they’re political in nature and the disease doesn’t give a damn about politics. This is a plague which kills people, and it has three major modes of transmission: direct contact (breath droplets passed through speech, breathing, singing and similar processes); aerosol contact (smaller contaminated droplets passed via air currents); and surface contact (infected droplets on surfaces which are touched by others who subsequently touch their face, wounds or other orifices.) Of those, the primary method is aerosol – and the aerosol concerns are extremely low for outdoor activity.
Taking away that vector limits danger. Unless people are very close to each other and talking, or bumping against each other and using the same facilities, there’s little concern about outside transmission. That fact is likely to prevent the Texas Rangers game from being a superspreader event. Individuals will have their assigned seats. Even if someone infected is screaming encouragement to the team and touching all the surfaces around, they will only be potentially infecting those in their direct path instead of generating a Pigpen-like cloud of germs hitting everyone within a twenty foot radius. The same facts were in play for the street protests of last year.
But the street protests spread the disease. Those who lost family members who’d attended them likely didn’t care that the transmission numbers hadn’t been nearly as bad as they’d have been for an indoor event. The same thing is going to happen because of the Rangers game.
As a person who lives in a city near where the game was played, I can attest to the efficiency of the local vaccine rollout. I’m going for my second shot tomorrow, and my over-65 mother had hers on Saturday. A close family friend is slated to get his on the 16th. People who want to be vaccinated are being vaccinated – and people want to be vaccinated. Sign-up lists continue to fill within a half hour of being announced. As expected, many of the “vaccine hesitant” are following the crowd and getting their shots even as they continue to gripe. Vaccine distribution has been excellent.
Two pieces of widespread misinformation are being illustrated, and they’re far from exclusive to Texas. First is the belief that outdoor events are inherently safe. They’re safer, as explained above, but that’s not the same. But this misconception has led to things like “outside seating” in northern state restaurants where canvas or plastic tents have been erected to contain heat and keep away wind. Second is the belief that getting the second vaccination shot (or first, for Johnson & Johnson) renders one immune from the virus, when in reality it only provides a high resistance and then only does so after a body has had two to three weeks to generate sufficient antibodies.
I have little doubt that the stands yesterday were full not because of virus conspiracy believers but because of people who trusted word of mouth and wanted to celebrate getting their lives back to normal. People who were, in their minds, vaccinated and outside and therefore safe.
North Texans have been doing a relatively good job keeping themselves safe. National Geographic has a site keeping track of rolling infection rates with a convenient map. Tarrant County, where Globe Life Park resides, has seen 1 reported case for every 1,064 people over the last two weeks. Nearby Dallas County has seen 1 case for every 763; Collin, where I live in Plano, has seen 1 per 782, and Denton, north of us, has 1 per 841. This is despite the state being fully opened, and it stands in comparison to my old stomping grounds of Monmouth and Ocean counties in NJ (1/138 and 1/135, respectively), as well as other prominent cities like Chicago (Cook county, IL (1/355)); Miami (Miami-Dade county, FL (1/176)); Philadephia (Philadelphia county, PA (1/244); or Seattle (King County, WA (1/496). We were greatly aided by the protracted cold snap and winter storm which kept people at home for a week and a half, an event which drastically curtailed what was, at the time, a quickly growing infection rate. Even the decision to open all of the schools and cut out remote learning hasn’t had a significant impact because it is scheduled to happen at the beginning of the next school year; for the moment, established protections remain in place.
It may not matter. The full ballpark yesterday illustrates that overconfidence and wishful thinking remain a present danger to the public health. And, while some small pleasure might be taken at seeing the much-vaunted boycott of MLB come to nothing in the heart of what is traditionally a very Republican area, it is mitigated by the knowledge that the fight against COVID-19 is going to continue to be far more difficult than necessary.