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NBA unveils elaborate COVID-19 battle plan for season’s return

The NBA has unveiled health protocols for the league's return to play in Orlando, Fla.
(Jeenah Moon / Getty Images)

Resuming the NBA season has relied on having the ability to combat the coronavirus while continuing games, and on Tuesday evening teams got a look at the battle plan — a 113-page document that details everything from the types of testing the league will use to a promise to provide players with enough decks of cards that each one can be disposed after a single use.

“The core health practices relied upon in these protocols are physical distancing and use of face coverings, hand and respiratory hygiene, reduced use of shared objects and spaces, rigorous cleaning and disinfection procedures, and regular health monitoring and diagnostic testing,” the document, which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, says on the first page.

The social distancing rules are strict. People on the Disney World campus in Orlando, Fla., where 22 teams will convene to begin playing games July 30, could wear a device that sets off an audible alarm when they are within six feet of another person for more than five seconds. The league will also experiment with wearable medical technology that can monitor body temperature and blood oxygen levels.

If the rules aren’t followed, players could be warned, fined, suspended or banished from the campus. Staff members who violate NBA rules can be sent home without warning.

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The document states that the league will not shut down if people test positive.

A person who tests positive will live in isolated housing if hospitalization isn’t necessary. After a false positive is ruled out, that person must stay in isolation until there are no symptoms present and the patient passes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resolution strategy, which is currently two consecutive negative tests more than 24 hours apart. Medical clearance from an infectious-disease doctor is also required.

Players and staff must be in the team’s home market by June 23 to undergo a high-sensitivity coronavirus test and serology/antibody test, and players who do not wish to participate must notify their team and the NBPA by June 24. They cannot be disciplined, per league rules.

Those who do choose to play will take part in required individual workouts beginning July 1, with no more than eight players in the team facility at any one time. The league’s rules govern a wide range of topics, including linens — no shared towels, for one — and mouthpieces, which players “must refrain from regularly handling.”

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While teams prepare to leave for Orlando, the league is requiring that players and essential team staff continue to self-isolate at home, with exceptions for essential activities such as grocery shopping and visiting the team facility. A notable exception is more timely amid nationwide calls for social justice reform: Despite warnings regarding staying away from crowded settings, the league’s protocols “do not prohibit players and essential staff from engaging in protests.”

The instructions for care are so specific, the document includes a recipe for the proper way to disinfect the basketballs used in individual workouts (one-fourth teaspoon of dish soap per gallon of water).

Movie nights, card games, DJ sets and COVID-19 tests will be part of the NBA’s return to play, according to a memo the league sent to teams Tuesday.

Once teams arrive in Orlando in early July, players and staff will self-isolate until they return two negative tests 24 or more hours apart. The NBA will use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

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The league will begin a contact-tracing program to try to determine if any close contacts are also positive for the coronavirus.

“These protocols are designed to promote prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce exposure to, and transmission of, the coronavirus; however, it is possible that staff, players, or other participants in the resumption of the 2019-20 season nonetheless may test positive or contract the coronavirus,” the document reads. “The occurrence of a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption of the 2019-20 season.”

Instructions range extensively into how players will handle recreation, with people who golf required to ride in carts by themselves; they cannot share equipment. And players won’t be allowed to share headsets when they play video games or play doubles in ping pong.

Within three days of arriving in Florida, teams must hold an educational session to go over all the rules.


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