The coronavirus pandemic and the NFL are dominant forces, and on Thanksgiving the fight is underscored by whether people should be left to make their own decisions.

More than 30,000 football fans were expected to attend Thursday’s game between Dallas and Washington at AT&T Stadium near Dallas, with very little team or league direction for the fans.

The size of the crowd, during a crushing chapter of COVID-19 spread, could set a record for 2020 in-game attendance. There were an announced 31,700 people in the stands for the Cowboys’ previous home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As many Americans experience a very different Thanksgiving, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones predicted safety for fans and hoped for a season-record crowd.

The gathering technically meets NFL guidelines, but is far exceeding what health experts prefer.

“At this point, none of this makes any sense, because of the level the virus is at,” Eric S. Rubenstein, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health, told ESPN. “Also, importantly, they need to set an example. The NBA did a nice job of this with their bubble. The NFL, not so much. … Sending this mixed message is sort of the system-level problem of all of this COVID stuff. 

“The organization should take some responsibility rather than placing it on people deciding whether to show up or not.” 

In Tarrant County, home to AT&T Stadium, coronavirus infections have nearly doubled in the past two weeks, according to state data.

On Wednesday, Texas set a record for the most cases in one day, with 14,648 new diagnoses emerging from the previous day. Health officials also reported 200 new deaths, bringing the cumulative total to 20,950, according to a statistical dashboard maintained by the Texas Department of State Health Services agency.

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