NBA players across the league that intend on taking part in the Orlando bubble were required to return to their home market this week for an initial round of COVID-19 testing.
The NBA and NBPA announced the results of 302 players tested on June 23, indicating 16 of those players have tested positive, which amounts to a 5.3% positive test rate. Per NBA requirements, the players that have tested positive will remain in self-isolation until they satisfy public health protocols and are cleared by a physician.
So far, about half of the names that have tested positive around the league have been publicly reported by multiple outlets. Those names include four Kings players (Buddy Hield, Alex Len, Jabari Parker and an unnamed fourth player), Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr., two unnamed Suns players. Nikola Jokic also reportedly tested positive in Serbia but it’s unclear whether his results was part of this round of testing. The NBA won’t be publicly revealing the players that do test positive.
So what exactly will these positive results have on the NBA bubble? Very little for time being, according to disease experts I've spoken with. The 5.3 percent positive test rate is comparable to the NHL’s COVID-19 test results earlier this month (11 out of 200 players tested positive at training facilities) when returning to home markets. Since players were spread out all across the country and not quarantining, there were certainly different levels of risk certain players were taking on a daily basis. For instance, Hield took part in some pickup basketball games in crowded gyms according to videos posted last month, a situation that would have put him at far greater risk.
These positive tests speak to the importance of the bubble situation that the players will begin entering on July 6. According to experts, for now the testing is supposed to find the inevitable positives that are bound to pop up among 300-plus players living in day-to-day life without restrictions. Daily testing will commence at the team’s training facilities for the next couple of weeks while small group workouts begin to take place. For players that have already tested positive, it’s unlikely they will rejoin their teammates until the Orlando bubble begins since a lengthy quarantine period will be required along with multiple negative tests.
The hope for the NBA is that the next couple weeks of testing allow them to weed out any potential sources of the virus among players before they begin to move everyone into the bubble environment. Teams will likely encourage players in their home markets to be very vigilant with their contacts and day-to-day movements as they try to ensure everyone is healthy before heading down to Orlando.
The bigger worry now for the NBA is probably the heightened outbreak of the virus in Florida as a whole. While increased testing explains some of the rises in numbers, the state has set multiple records this week for positive tests, including nearly 9,000 on Friday.
JUST IN: Florida reports massive single-day increase of 9,000 coronavirus caseshttps://t.co/c4pwLI2yG7
— Axios (@axios) June 26, 2020
That combined with a 13.4 percent positive test rate today (triple compared to June 1st) and has led to the state starting to scale back some of their reopening plans, including closing bars statewide.
While disease experts have praised the thoroughness of the NBA’s bubble plan in Orlando, the fact that some Disney workers will be entering the bubble (while masked and social distancing from players) carries a heightened degree of risk for everyone. Those workers will be going home to their families at night and living their lives however they want so a high level of cases among the general population will still be worrisome for players inside the bubble.
Part of me wonders whether the NBA would have been better off taking the NHL gameplan of delaying