From the relative isolation at Walt Disney World Resort to dozens of pages of policies and procedures, the NBA is building a social bubble in the Orlando area to protect their teams and the 2019-20 season from COVID-19.
Overall, health experts have praised the NBA’s return-to-play guidelines. However, they also raised concerns, including test frequency, test kit uniformity, and length of isolation periods.
“I have never seen anything so comprehensive from anyone,” said Dr. Rishi Desai, chief medical officer at Osmosis and an infectious disease doctor, told USA TODAY Sports in June. “Not just the federal government ̵
Disney’s complex offers relative isolation
Few locations could offer the 22 teams and NBA staff so many game facilities, spaces and amenities that they are minimally exposed to the public. The NBA’s multi-year TV contract with ESPN – owned by Disney – probably didn’t hurt either.
The resort’s 220-hectare ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex has more than a dozen practice pitches and enough game-quality pitches to play and broadcast three games at the same time, although this is not currently planned.
The 22 teams will each play eight seeding games from July 30 to determine the final placement and determine who will play the playoffs. You can search, sort or scroll all 88 seeding games below.
Planning was an NBA strategy to reduce the number of potential contacts.
Family and guests are not welcomed to the resort until the seeding games and the first round of playoffs are complete.
This leaves potentially infected guests outside of the NBA bubble for more than seven weeks. During this time, more than half of the invited teams will be eliminated in the seeding round or in the playoffs.
The NBA performed a similar calculation on the teams’ accommodations.
The teams no longer have a home advantage. You won’t have fans in the stands either. However, they were assigned to one of three luxury hotels based on their current placement in each conference.
The likely championship candidates – who will likely spend much of the three months together – will stay in the Gran Destino Tower in Coronado Springs, the middle seeds will stay in the Grand Floridian, and the playoff bubble teams will stay in the Yacht Club.
A recent study showed that limiting connections in a population helps slow the transmission of a virus.
Masks and social distancing
Just because NBA players, coaches, and staff are inside the bubble, precautions and advice are generally what the CDC suggests for those of us outside of the bubble.
According to the NBA’s 113-page health and safety protocol, masks are required in all public situations except for exercises and games.
Even during the games, most participants must wear some kind of face covering.
Test, test, test
In the two weeks before the players traveled to Orlando, they had to be tested for the corona virus, according to the NBA.
Since they arrived in a staggered three-day period from July 7th to 9th, each player had to quarantine more than 24 hours in their room and perform two negative COVID-19 tests.
After the initial tests, players and staff are “subjected to regular coronavirus testing, which has been established by the NBA in consultation with its medical experts and the (National Basketball Players Association)”.
The NBA also says that players and employees are monitored daily:
- Check body temperature.
- Asked about possible COVID-19 symptoms.
- Monitored by a finger ring – if the player or employee is interested – to detect changes in heart rate.
The NBA says there is no deactivation of surveillance for players, staff or guests and that anyone who refuses “cannot conduct group activities until surveillance is complete and / or may have to leave campus permanently”.
Keep transmission to a minimum
Disney employees regularly clean public areas such as elevators, lobbies and handrails.
Disney will also staff the takeaway restaurants with the same staff to eliminate turnover. You must wear all masks and gloves, keeping a distance of at least two meters.
To reduce any other possible transmission in their spare time, the NBA even suggests that players throw away a deck of cards after each use.
Planning for the unexpected
“You’re on the right track,” Brian Labus, assistant professor of health at UNLV, told USA TODAY in June. “Although they will have some challenges when they actually start implementing, everything looks fine on paper.”
One of the big X factors in maintaining the NBA bubble is Disney employees. You don’t have to stay in the bubble, you help players, coaches and other staff every day.
“I don’t think a reasonable person would say that this is a real possibility. They speak of hundreds, maybe thousands, of workers in these hotels who would never see their family for three months,” said Eric Clinton, president of UNITE HERE Local 362, which monitors custodians and drivers at Disney World.
The union and the NBA have agreed several safeguards. Clinton said: “They are planned and trained so that they don’t interact with the players as much as possible.”
The cleaning staff is assigned to a specific floor in each hotel. Clinton added that there will be special cleaners in the Grand Floridian dealing with NBA employees and another group of employees dealing with timeshare customers.
They will also monitor employees and ask them to monitor their own health on a daily basis.
So that employees don’t feel compelled to work with diseases, Disney pays them for sick days. Disney also pays all employees who have to quarantine themselves if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, regardless of where it comes from.
Regardless, the NBA said in its health and safety protocols that the league, player union and Disney “will continue to monitor the current coronavirus situation as local, state and national recommendations on public health evolve and new or different technologies become available (e.g. related to diagnostic testing or contact tracking), and emerging insights continue to provide best practices for prevention, control and mitigation strategies. “
“We continue to work with Disney on testing at least one subset of their employees who may be in the same room as our players and everyone else who is tested daily on our campus,” said NBA commissioner Adam Silver in June. “So we’re happy that once we’ve worked through these additional measures with Disney, we’ll continue to have a safe environment to continue our season.”