NBA says providing COVID-19 tests to public 'important part of our restart'

Cassandra Negley
·4-min read

An important aspect of the league’s restart was ensuring players, coaches and staff were tested for COVID-19 regularly. In addition to that, the league wanted to make sure it wasn’t to the detriment of the public and it could find a way to give back, per USA Today Sports.

Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programs, told USA Today Sports the league is not taking away from existing testing and is focused on contributions to make sure testing is widely available.

Free community testing programs in NBA markets

The league launched a community testing program for free in Orlando, where the NBA is playing out its regular season and playoffs at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports, and the other 29 team markets. The league said it is providing thousands of COVID-19 PCR tests, a molecular test that detects the virus’s specific genetic material.

They are working with BioReference Laboratories, the company that administers tests inside the NBA bubble, and are ensuring they reach underserved Latino and Black communities in these areas, per USA Today Sports.

“There are ways to ensure that you’re not taking away from the testing that needs to be available,” Behrens said, via USA Today Sports. "If we can contribute in making sure additional testing is available at new capacities to essential Florida with these mobile testing sites, that is an important part of our restart.

“We’re not just taking care of our own NBA community. But we’re making sure we contribute toward taking care of the greater community because the need is so great.”

The NBA has recently focused on Orlando and areas near the city since Florida is a hotspot. The number of new cases in the state has started to drop in recent days, per the New York Times. There has been an average of 6,525 new cases per day, a decrease of 38 percent from the state’s average two weeks ago. Florida experienced a peak of 15,300 new cases in one day on July 12.

NBA criticized early on for using up public tests

A man enters a COVID-19 testing site inside a hotel ballroom.
NBA players are required to undergo consistent testing in the bubble. The league is also working to provide testing for the public. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The NBA faced criticism in March when teams were tested for the virus in the days after the league postponed its season. The Utah Jazz organization had 58 people tested after Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus. The tests came from the state’s then-small supply and was a “public health decision.”

Other teams were also tested at the time, with some receiving public tests and others going to the private market.

There are still issues around the country with the turnaround time for tests. Those who use clinics and doctor’s offices are sometimes waiting two weeks to get results, whereas the NBA’s tests come within hours. The slow turnaround time in testing is becoming a larger issue as schools around the country begin bringing teachers, students and staff back for the year.

NBA partners with organizations, research studies

In addition to providing testing in its markets, the NBA is partnering with organizations and studies to learn more about COVID-19.

“The Fight Is In Us” is a national donor recruitment campaign aimed at connecting survivors of COVID-19 with patients at blood and plasma donor centers. The plasma of those who’ve had COVID-19 has antibodies that can help others fight the virus.

The push also has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Helen Mirren and Awkwafina in its corner. It was released in June.

The league is also working with the Yale School of Public Health and the Mayo Clinic for a study focused on shortening the turnaround time for tests and reducing their cost. Players, coaches and staff members can voluntarily participate in a non-invasive saliva test.

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