NBA announces positive coronavirus tests for 16 of 302 players (5.3%)

Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon and Kings guard Buddy Hield
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The NBA is ramping up coronavirus testing as players report to their teams in advance of resuming at Disney World. Players who’ve reportedly tested positive so far.

That’s just the start, though.

NBA and NBPA release:

In tests conducted of 302 NBA players on June 23, 16 players have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Any player who tested positive will remain in self-isolation until he satisfies public health protocols for discontinuing isolation and has been cleared by a physician.

That’s 5.3%.

Don’t compare this to positive test rates for states or countries. Those tests tend to be done on people who show symptoms or came into contact with someone who tested positive. That skews the rate up. NBA players are tested simply because they’re showing up to work.

COVID-19 Projections estimates 0.47% of people in the United States are currently infected. Translated to 302 players, that rate would mean just one positive test.

But NBA players have different risk profiles than the overall population. There are reasons NBA players could have lower rates of infection (high salaries that allow them to live comfortably without needing to take risk). But there are stronger reasons NBA players could have higher rates:

  • NBA players are young. Young people tend to have less-severe symptoms. So, young people tend to engage in behavior that carries greater risk of contracting coronavirus.
  • NBA players tend to live in big cities, where teams are located. Many big cities have been hit hard.
  • NBA players train strenuously. Heavy breathing can spread coronavirus. There are plenty of videos of NBA players playing crowded gyms.

A good comparison? The NHL. Last week, the NHL announced 11 players of more than 200 tested multiple times were diagnosed with coronavirus (5.2% if that were 210 players).

Expect even more NBA players to test positive. For one, full rosters for the continuing 22 teams would be 374 players. That leaves many more players to be tested. There are also nearly two weeks before players travel to Orlando. That leaves more time for players to contract coronavirus in their own communities.

It wouldn’t be surprising if 20-30 NBA players test positive for coronavirus as testing ramps up before teams reach Disney World.

These numbers already are certainly shocking people. That response is a massive PR blunder by the NBA, which should have better set expectations for the public.

But it’s not an indication the NBA’s safety plan is failing.

NBA players testing positive now shows the dangers of the larger world, where NBA players have been living and coronavirus is a very-real threat. The bubble in Disney World will be a FAR more controlled environment with tight restrictions and frequent testing. The idea is to detect coronavirus now, before players it into Disney World.

Positive tests in later phases would have different meanings.

Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist:

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about the NBA’s plan:

  • Rising infection rates in Florida, which increases risk if the NBA’s bubble is infiltrated
  • A short initial quarantine when players arrive in Disney World (two negative tests spaced 24 hours apart), which risks players contracting coronavirus shortly before arriving and not having it show up on tests before they enter the larger bubble
  • Players – especially players sidelined by coronavirus – having a tight window to train after a long layoff, which increases risk of injury

But these results? This is the system working.