Breaking Down The NBA’s 134-page Safety Protocol

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With an average 9.4% positivity rate and nearly 13 million total cases, the coronavirus has undoubtedly taken a toll on our nation. Certain cities and states across America have reinstated stay-at-home orders while others continue to enforce mask mandates and social distancing guidelines. Public health and safety have become of utmost importance during this pandemic, precisely what the National Basketball Association (NBA) seeks to promote throughout its upcoming season. After a tumultuous season with indefinite suspensions and countless players being infected with the coronavirus, the NBA strived to meticulously plan the 2020-2021 season with the well-being of both players and fans in mind. The NBA’s work has culminated in the 134-page safety protocol released just recently on November 28th, 2020, detailing the slightest of precautions the league would be taking. To begin with, let’s take a look at what the NBA defines to be its eight “core health and safety principles.”

  • Mask Mandate – The NBA has mandated that masks be worn at all times by players, coaches, staff, and fans (should they be allowed in stadiums). The NBA has also detailed potential exceptions, allowing for masks to be taken off in individual on-court/off-court practices, during times of active drinking/eating, and when in an “enclosed office” where no other individuals are present. 
  • Physical Distancing – Similar to many other institutions across the nation, the NBA has required social distancing (at least six feet). 
  • Hand and Respiratory Hygiene – Similar to the guidelines proclaimed by numerous immunologists, the NBA has strived to promote consistent hand-washing, hand-sanitizing, and coughing/sneezing into one’s elbow. 
  • Reducing Communal Touchpoints – The NBA has strived to cut down on the number of communal touch points including limiting shared pens, water bottles, and tablets. 
  • Controlled Environments – During the 2019-2020 seasons, the NBA implemented “bubbles,” meaning that players would not leave a set location. In the 2020-2021 season, the NBA seeks to indirectly utilize a similar approach, looking to establish controlled environments that reduce contacts with individuals “outside the team environment.”
  • Disinfection – The NBA has required consistent cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched products and surfaces, including but not limited to, basketballs, towels, doorknobs, etc. 
  • Testing – The NBA has also mandated regular COVID testing of players, coaches, and staff, requiring self-quarantine should there be a positive test. 
  • Education. One of the major facets of the NBA’s safety protocols is its educational aspect, encouraging its constituents to regularly engage in “awareness sessions.”

Alongside these stringent safety protocols to prohibit the spread and contraction of COVID-19, the league has also constructed a system in the scenario that someone does test positive for COVID-19 and wants to return. The system has two potential paths for return: a “test-based” resolution, and a “time-based” resolution:

  • Test-Based Resolution: Under the test-based resolution, a player must return two consecutive negative test results taken 24 hours apart from one another.
  • Time-Based Resolution: The time-based resolution warrants much more than the test-based resolution – it requires an infected player’s symptoms to improve, their fever to be alleviated without medication and at least ten days since the individual’s positive test result. 

The NBA has also required its constituents to follow countless other rules including hiring external medical consultants, refraining from lounging, supplying the traveling party with personal protective equipment, and limiting practices to just two players. The 2020-2021 season has been set to start on December 22nd, 2020, with the safety protocols aforementioned kicking in days before during training camps and pre-season games. Through its work, the NBA has strived to not only promote the safety of its players but also set an example for other sports leagues including the NHL and the MLB. For fans, this season will undoubtedly be quite different, yet the thrill of a basketball game will remain the same!

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