NBA moves into critical COVID-19 testing phase

Ira Winderman Sun Sentinel (TNS)
Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra on Saturday discusses the NBA's resumption plan.

Of all the tests faced by the NBA in its bid to resume and complete the season, none may stand as significant as Tuesday's.

Essentially, the league has reached the starting line of what either will become a race of attrition or the march toward crowning a 2020 champion in October.

After three months of discretionary testing by teams amid the coronavirus pandemic, that element now is mandatory for the 22 teams headed to the Wide World of Sports campus at the Disney World complex in July for the resumption of a season suspended on March 11.

Termed Phase 2 of the NBA's pre-Orlando protocols, Tuesday marked the start for all players and certain team staff to receive mandatory polymerise chain reaction (PCR) testing and a serology/antibody test for COVID-19. Those tests are now to be repeated every other day until teams arrive at Disney, when even more rigorous testing commences.

In addition, through June 30, players will undergo temperature checks, symptom assessments, and cardiac screening (as necessary), while continuing to work in individual training sessions at team facilities, such as the practice court at AmericanAirlines Arena for the Miami Heat.

The start of testing effectively also adds a pause button into the equation, with, among other cardiac-related screening issues, any player who tests positive for the coronavirus via PCR (with or without associated viral symptoms) required to rest and refrain from exercise training for two weeks from the later of the date of the first PCR test and/or resolution of viral symptoms.

With the Heat currently scheduled to travel by bus to the Gran Destino Tower at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort on July 9, where they will enter the NBA's quarantine "bubble" setting, a positive result during this initial testing period would leave enough time in that two-week inactive window to still make it to the court for the start of team training sessions at Disney.

According to the NBA, travel to Disney will be permitted "only for those who: (1) have not returned a positive test for COVID-19 since June 23, (2) have tested positive, but thereafter have been medically cleared to travel (based on lack of symptoms, at least two consecutive negative PCR tests, and clearance to discontinue isolation), (3) report no symptoms on day of travel, and (4) do not live with a household member who has or recently had COVID-19 or symptoms."

As a matter of perspective on the possible initial returns on NBA testing, the NHL, which has a similar schedule for its resumption of play, announced on June 19:

"Since NHL Clubs were permitted to open their training facilities on June 8, all Players entering these facilities for voluntary training have been subject to mandatory testing for COVID-19. Through today, in excess of 200 Players have undergone multiple testing. A total of 11 of these Players have tested positive. All Players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols."

The NBA could have as many as 374 players on rosters for the resumption of play.

The NHL, similar to Major League Baseball with its testing and the NFL, noted in its memo that it "will not be providing information on the identity of the Players or their Clubs."

While the names of some NBA players testing positive in the immediate wake of the league's shutdown were confirmed, such as Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, Marcus Smart and Kevin Durant, teams have acknowledged that other players also have tested positive, without those names released.

Unlike with the NBA's March 11 shutdown, the league's plan is to move forward with its resumption if the expected positive tests arise. The amount of positives, in addition to the rising total of positive tests in Florida, though, could impact the approach to what is scheduled for a July 30 restart, when the 22 invited teams each will play eight games to close out their regular seasons, with 16 teams advancing to the playoffs. All games will be played in the absence of fans.

Eight teams with records that effectively eliminated them from playoff contention will not be part of the resumption.

At 41-24, the Heat already have clinched a playoff berth.

The Heat have not directly detailed the team's degree of testing or results, but have confirmed that all 17 players under contract are back in South Florida and have been involved in individual workouts.

In addition to Tuesday's start of testing, the league has requested a decision by Wednesday from players who decide to bypass the resumption. Such players, if not determined to be at risk or infected by COVID-19, would be docked salary for games missed, but have been assured by the league there would be no further sanction.