More fans at Dallas Cowboys' games? Why that's concerning amid rising COVID-19 numbers

Millions of Americans will heed the warnings of public health officials on Thursday. Instead of participating in a traditional Thanksgiving with large gatherings of family and friends, they'll connect virtually or not at all, doing their part to tamp down a nationwide surge of COVID-19 infections.

Meanwhile, on the edge of reality, tens of thousands of football fans will gather at AT&T Stadium for the Dallas Cowboys' Week 12 game against the Washington Football Team. They'll arrive at the invitation of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who insists the gathering will be safe and said as recently as last week that he hoped attendance surpasses its previous season high of 31,700. A crowd of that size technically falls within NFL guidelines, but that goal is roughly twice what any other team has hosted and has mortified public health officials around the country.

"At this point, none of this makes any sense, because of the level the virus is at," said Eric S. Rubenstein, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health. "Also, importantly, they need to set an example. The NBA did a nice job of this with their bubble. The NFL, not so much. They need to say that even if the risk might not be great here in this particular situation, we need people to know that we need to hunker down and not do this kind of activity. 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."