Saturday, Florida confirmed 4,049 new coronavirus cases in the state, a dubious record. That beat out the previous record set 24-hours before of 3,822 new cases, which itself beat the record from the day before of 3,207 cases in the state. Florida is a coronavirus hot spot.
In less than three weeks players land in Orlando, where the plan is to restart the NBA season in a coronavirus-free bubble, eventually crowning a champion.
Is that still safe?
People throughout the NBA are asking that question, but Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA’s staff remain confident, report Adrian Wojnarowski and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.
In at least one recent call with high-level team executives, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has acknowledged the spiking numbers in Florida. Multiple team sources described the general tone of that call, including the questions asked of Silver on it, as tense. Another called Silver’s tone “resolute but somber.” He expressed a resolve to go on — a confidence in the NBA’s bubble concept — while recognizing the seriousness of the coronavirus spike, sources said.
NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN that the league is “closely monitoring the data in Florida and Orange County and will continue to work collaboratively with the National Basketball Players Association, public health officials and medical experts regarding our plans.”
The league’s general reaction to the Florida case spike sounds something like what Dallas owner Mark Cuban told the New York Post: It will be safer in the bubble than outside it.
In fact, given the rise in cases in states, I have every reason to believe the setup we have in Orlando will be safer for our players and travel parties than staying in their respective cities.
Not everyone is so confident.
The league has a 113-page set of rules for players and team staff to create and maintain a bubble on the Walt Disney World property allowing an NBA restart despite the coronavirus. It includes regular testing, wearing masks, and everyone has to eat the food prepared in the bubble, sleep in the hotels in the bubble, and generally not physically interact with the outside world. The rules get down to details such as throwing out a deck of cards after a night of games rather than reusing it.
“No one is suggesting that this is going to be an infection-free, guaranteed environment,” NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told The Associated Press this past week. “I guess, unless we go to … well, where would we go? What state has the lowest rate? There’s just no way of finding a sterile environment probably on this planet, but certainly, not in this country…
“My solace is that our guys are not going to be out and about in the city of Orlando,” Roberts added. “The players will be flown in non-commercial, and they will essentially be on campus for the entirety of their stay until such time as their season ends.”
However, as Justise Winslow and other players are quick to point out, Disney staff will go home and sleep in their own beds, interact with family and friends in the Florida hotspot, then return the next day to work in the bubble. Those employees will get temperature checks, wear masks and gloves, and most of them will have little if any interaction with the players. Still, there is a growing risk. Orange County, which includes most of the Disney property, is seeing a record number of cases and a much higher percentage of people testing positive in recent days.
There is no simple “plan B” for the NBA; it can’t just pick up the bubble and drop it in Las Vegas or Houston or anywhere else. The NBA is committed to Orlando and making this work.
It’s possible, however, that how the state of Florida quickly pushed to re-open with as few restrictions as possible could doom the best laid plans of the NBA.