NBA lays out plan for players who recovered from COVID-19 but test positive

NBA COVID-19 tests
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Orlando’s James Ennis did it today, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Sacramento’s Buddy Hield have already done it, and over the coming weeks more NBA players will follow this path, including stars such as Russell Westbrook: Players who recovered from COVID-19 will return to play in the NBA restart in Orlando.

But what happens if that recovered player tests positive for the coronavirus in the bubble? Would they miss several games while quarantined and more tests are run?

It would be a false positive and the NBA sent a memo to teams about this topic Wednesday, a memo obtained by multiple media outlets (but broken by Malika Andrews and ESPN). Here’s the heart of it, via Mark Medina and Jeff Zillgett of the USA Today.

The memo, which was obtained by USA TODAY Sports, said that “an individual who has recovered from COVID-19 but who returns a PCR test with an inconclusive result or a CT value beyond the level of detection [a positive test] will not be quarantined or otherwise restricted from participating with their team based on this test result” so long as various protocols are met.

Those stipulations? The person had received two negative PCR tests at least 24 hours apart; returned a positive antibody results within the past 30 days; takes a rapid antigen test and returns a negative result; and is at least 14 days removed from receiving a first positive test and remains asymptomatic.

This has come up because it has happened once, according to ESPN. That led to questions from other teams about a plan.

People who have had and recovered from the coronavirus could have dead coronavirus cells in their bodies that would lead to a positive test, but they have developed antibodies that can fight off the disease. Studies have shown sicker patients developing more antibodies. All that provides people with some immunity, at least in the short term of several months (it is not yet known if that immunity fades over time and makes people susceptible to getting the disease again, only because the virus itself is so new). For the purpose of the NBA and the Orlando restart, the recovered players should have the antibodies to be immune.

The concern from teams, during a restart with a compacted schedule, is that key players would miss multiple games — particularly playoff games — because of a false positive test. This new protocol accounts for that.

The NBA went into the unprecedented restart knowing they would need to adapt some rules on the fly. This is one of them.