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Experts Say Stadium COVID-19 Transmissions Likely Higher Than Nursing Homes, Jails, Cruise Ships

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Major League Baseball is set to resume games in just about a month. In some cities, fans might be able to attend games in-person. Target Field, though, will be closed to fans for now.

So, why are stadiums among the last to open? What do experts know about COVID-19 transmission? WCCO spoke Thursday with Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, and Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious diseases at the Minnesota Department of Health.

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"I put stadiums in the same category as rock concerts," Chin-Hong said. "Even probably higher perhaps than nursing homes and jails and cruise ships. They're similar because they're all congregate settings."

He says congregate settings are more problematic from a virus perspective because it means a lot of noses and mouths close to other noses and mouths. Often, those settings are emotional, physical and can include alcohol.

"All of the sudden you lose your inhibitions," Chin-Hong said. "The way I talk about stadiums, when I talk with my colleagues, it's almost like an adult pre-school. It's not pre-school in a pejorative way, it's we have wild abandon, we're free to enjoy each other's company. It's that communal aspect."

When looking at risk, experts look at how long the contact lasts, how many people are present and how close they are together.

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"The sheer volume of people in a stadium is a big problem," Ehresmann said. "And how do we manage getting people in and out in segments that are small enough."

An outdoor stadium does decrease the risk, but the risk doesn't go away when so many people are together.

Dr. Chin-Hong also says actions like shouting or singing can spread droplets further than simply talking.

"Normally, that's not a big problem because you're not standing next to someone who is coughing or screaming at you for a very long time," he said. "But in a stadium setting, a rock concert, a political convention, that's part of the game, that's part of the joy."

Then, there are all the surfaces that people can touch. Experts now believe that's not a primary way to transmit the virus, but it's still a concern.

WCCO reached out to Minnesota's pro teams. Each said they were working with health officials and creating plans for a return back the stadium. No team was ready to offer specific details.

Ehresmann says MDH is not ruling out a return to stadiums, but says the state isn't ready now. The department is watching the cases, including weighing information, like the relatively few confirmed cases after recent protests, and gatherings with an increase in cases from young people going to bars.

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