How Is the NBA Affected by COVID-19?

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Despite Florida breaking single-day records for novel coronavirus in July, the NBA recently created a “bubble” at Walt Disney World and has successfully managed to prevent any confirmed COVID-19 cases from spreading among the people located there. The league invited 22 teams, NBA staff, journalists, vendors, and league officials to its sequestered bubble in Orlando. 

With 24/7 surveillance, strict protocols, and an exclusive coronavirus testing method with quick result turnarounds, the NBA has exercised due diligence to prevent an outbreak. The constant surveillance of visitors’ locations has proven especially useful and is unprecedented in the sport’s history. Disney World’s visitors and temporary residents must wear a trackable wristband called the MagicBand. People on the premises may only navigate the campus, pay for items, and gain access to their hotel rooms using the MagicBand.

For the NBA, the wristband serves as a medical tracker. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, contact tracing is vital to combat the spread of COVID-19. Players, coaches, referees, NBA officials, and reporters must wear their MagicBand and a mask everywhere outside of their hotel rooms to properly contract trace everyone invited within the bubble. 

When arriving and leaving hotels, practices, games, and testing rooms, players must scan their band. The scan is connected to a daily questionnaire that surveys the user for COVID-19 symptoms, examines their temperature, and determines their oxygen saturation levels. If the person has missed a regular test or a temperature log, the sensor turns blue, and the person is denied access to proceed until the protocol is properly followed.

The NBA, the National Basketball Players Association, and the Yale School of Public Health announced on June 22 that they have partnered to study SalivaDirect, a saliva-based novel coronavirus testing method. Yale’s research team has begun testing some of the basketball players who opted into the project. Yale’s SalivaDirect research team leader and assistant professor of epidemiology, Dr. Nathan Grubaugh, said the NBA was also interested in finding less-invasive testing methods for local communities.

NBPA chief medical officer Joe Rogowski said that SalivaDirect offers players a possible alternative method of COVID-19 testing in the NBA’s bubble, but more importantly to him, the new testing method would allow the NBA to leverage its regular testing methods to make a larger impact on the global fight against the novel coronavirus.

Saliva-based tests such as SalivaDirect are believed to be more accurate and less invasive than the common nasal swab. According to Vault Health, a telehealth company specializing in men’s healthcare, ninety-eight percent of saliva tests provide a positive or negative result. Two percent of tests deliver an inconclusive result.

Managing every possible case of transmission has proven to be no small feat either: The NBA has enforced protocols that require players, staff, and others in the bubble not just to wear a mask, but regularly wash their hands. Players like Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard have prominently made sure to wear their face masks and use hand sanitizer to set an example for other players.

Families aren’t allowed to visit the NBA bubble, making the situation hard for the basketball players’ family members and children. Some children ask during check-in calls when their fathers will be returning home. Nevertheless, the NBA bubble has so far seemed to be working well for the players, officials, reporters, and others stationed there despite the challenges.

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