Despite some speed bumps along the way, all signs are pointing toward the NBA resuming its season on July 30. The league is trying to create an environment at Disney World in Orlando, Florida where stringent protocols will be in place to help limit the spread of COVID-19. While figuring out the schedule and format were essential to resuming games, nothing is more important in this scenario than outlining safety procedures that everyone within the bubble must follow, especially in the event that someone tests positive for the coronavirus.
Last week, the league sent all 22 teams heading to Orlando a 113-page health and safety document which outlines every aspect on how the NBA plans to mitigate the risk for COVID-19. CBS Sports obtained a copy of that document to understand how the league prepares to test individuals inside the bubble, and how it will handle positive cases. There’s a lot of information to sift through; here are some frequently asked questions on the matter to break down everything we know.
Q: Who will be required to undergo COVID-19 testing in Orlando?
All players, essential team staff, league staff, guests of the players and specific on-site staff inside the bubble will all be required to participate in COVID-19 testing and daily monitoring in Orlando. The frequency of testing each day hasn’t been determined yet, however all members listed above are expected to be put on a testing schedule. Anyone who refuses to undergo testing will be asked to leave the bubble site.
The one issue that the NBA could potentially run into, though, is the testing of Disney employees. It’s been reported that employees who will be helping with the operation of the NBA’s restart plan may not be required to stay on Disney grounds. For those individuals, per the NBA’s health and safety protocols, they will not undergo regular coronavirus testing. Rules will be in place for these employees so they can’t be in the same room as a player or team staff member at the same time. They will also be required to wear a face mask and keep at least six feet from everyone at all times.
Q: What type of testing will take place in Orlando?
The league has been trying to work out ways around administering the typical coronavirus test to people inside the bubble, as it’s invasive and somewhat uncomfortable. So far, the NBA has partnered with researchers at Yale who are studying the reliability of a saliva-based COVID-19 test, but that will only be voluntary for those inside the bubble who want to take part in the study.
Instead, the league will use a variety of testing to ensure accuracy in results. Less invasive nasal swab tests will be done to ensure if an individual is currently infected with the virus. Antibody testing done by blood drawing will help determine if someone has previously been infected with COVID-19 and has antibodies in their immune system from it. The only time anyone will be required to undergo the more invasive nasal swab test is if a physician deems it’s necessary.
Q: What happens if a player tests positive for COVID-19?
There are two different paths to go down if a player tests positive for coronavirus:
If the player is asymptomatic: Per the health and safety protocols document, if a player tests positive but is asymptomatic, meaning they aren’t showing any symptoms of COVID-19, they will be forced to isolate away from their team and test negative twice with tests more than 24 hours apart before being allowed to leave isolation.
If the player is symptomatic: The player will enter immediate isolation at a separate housing facility inside the bubble if he tests positive for COVID-19. Due to testing not being 100 percent accurate, the player will undergo a second test to ensure confirmation of the first positive test. If the second test comes back as negative — meaning the two tests don’t match — the player will remain in isolation and take a third test after 24 hours. If the third test comes back negative, and the player isn’t showing COVID-19 symptoms, he will be able to return to full participation, unless an NBA-designated infectious disease physician determines that additional testing and isolation is needed, in which case the player will not be able to rejoin his respective team yet.
What could become tricky for the league, though, is contact tracing. If a player tests positive, regardless if they are asymptomatic or not, the league will begin to identify any other individuals the player came into close contact with over a “relevant period of time” to determine who else could be at risk for contracting the virus. If a player gets two or three of his teammates or coaches infected, that means that all those individuals would have to undergo the same procedures as the original infected player if they’re showing symptoms. Since the virus is known for spreading easily and quickly, one positive test could cause an outbreak inside the bubble, which could derail the league’s plan.
Q: Will the league shut down again due to positive cases?
When the league shut down on March 11, all it took was one positive COVID-19 test for the NBA to come to a standstill. That was back when there was little information about the virus or how it spread, and what ways it could be mitigated. When commissioner Adam Silver held a call in May with the board of governors, he told those on the call that “if a positive test would ‘shut us down, we probably shouldn’t go down this path.'” What Silver meant by that is there are going to be positive coronavirus tests once the NBA begins to resume its season. That’s inevitable and unavoidable.
The NBA has put stringent protocols in place to limit the spread of the virus, but that doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent safe. Some players have expressed concerns over the safety of the NBA’s plans, and the league has already told all players that there won’t be any punishment for not going to Orlando. Already, Trevor Ariza and Davis Bertans have opted out for different reasons, but there could be more players who ultimately decide the risk isn’t worth it.
It’s unclear what it would take for the NBA to shut down the remainder of the season after it starts back up again, but it appears that decision will remain fluid. Per the health and safety document, if individuals test positive for the coronavirus, the league will work with health experts to understand the relationship of the positive cases. They will try to determine if the transmission came from within the bubble, or if it’s being introduced from the surrounding community as people come in and out of Disney World. If there is an outbreak in the NBA, that will likely be how they decide to move forward with the rest of the season.