How did The NBA campus in the middle of the epicenter of a pandemic become the safest place on earth? Simply put: The NBA is NOT playing games with COVID-19.
I have been part of the NBA family for almost 20 years, as a coach and now a television broadcaster. I know that the NBA is not new to launching unique and larger than life events. However, the league, like so many other organizations, is new to coping with a highly contagious respiratory disease that has infected over 4.8 million Americans. Thanks to the advice of former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, Columbia University virus expert David Ho and other top infectious disease experts from the likes of Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Stanford and Duke universities, the concept of a contained campus was deemed necessary to have a safe place for competition.
Some of the Centers for Disease Control recommendations to combat the spread of COVID-19 are to test, wear a mask, physically distance and contact trace. The NBA implemented all of those protocols into the bubble.
As soon as I arrived on campus, I was sent to the testing room at my hotel, and then told to go immediately to my room to start a seven-day quarantine. After my first test came back negative, I was moved to the inner bubble with the strictest safety protocols (the same level as the players and coaches). Again I was escorted immediately to a testing room, then to my room to finish quarantine. And the testing didn’t stop there. Every day I get tested and if I don’t I will be denied access to the venues on campus. The NBA campus is crawling with security to make sure no one slips up. One colleague once took “the long way” to get tested and was quickly reprimanded.
Masks are also serious business. After two weeks on campus, I have yet to see anyone without one. As one head coach put it: ”If you go outside without a mask on, you will get a call immediately.” He was only half joking. NBA security staff are on constant “mask patrol,” walking around campus to enforce the protocol, which is that no one is permitted to be anywhere on campus without wearing a mask. That means inside or outside, in a group or alone. The only exceptions are in your own hotel room, eating alone or properly distanced. Signs everywhere serve as reminders.
The NBA provided us with masks as well as other tools to keep us COVID-free. When my quarantine was completed, I received my green zone credential, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, a digital thermometer, a digital pulse oximeter and a physical distance monitor to attach to my credential. The distance monitor alerts me with a beep and blinking red lights if I am within 6 feet of someone else for more than five seconds.
And that is not the only way we are monitored. While in the inner bubble, my room key is a Disney magic band worn on my wrist. When I use the band to “tap in” at practices, games and testing rooms, the light on the box at the checkpoint should turn green. The green light indicates that I am in compliance with all of the health and safety protocols in place. Everyone in the green zone must “tap in and out” at all venues. If there is a positive test, the system will automatically facilitate contact tracing.
The NBA also mandates that every person living in the bubble use a smartphone application to answer health and wellness questions to track symptoms. This happens everyday. Everyone is also required to take their temperature and use a pulse oximeter to measure heart rate and blood oxygen levels — once again everyday. Both devices feed directly into the application via a Bluetooth connection. There is zero chance of anyone misrepresenting their results.
The restart of The NBA is valuable because it provides a welcome distraction. However, the real value of the NBA restart transcends entertainment. The significance of the restart to all of us is the illustration of how to go back to work and socialize safely during a pandemic. Obviously the economic considerations are vast when you consider the technology involved and the frequency of testing. I am not saying that our local governments should adopt and implement the same plan as The NBA restart. I will say, however, that there are a lot of steps between, “I don’t want to wear a mask” and “the bubble.”
I am not asking anyone to leave their family for consecutive weeks or months as I have, because that is hard. I am not asking anyone to quarantine in a single room for seven days. I am not even asking that everyone get tested for COVID-19 everyday. I happily chose to endure this way of life with the hopes of being a part of something great, an example of how to be proactive in the face of extreme adversity. What I do hope everyone does, is what their favorite NBA player in the bubble is doing: wear a mask and maintain a responsible physical distance from others. The NBA has created a “whole new game.” What will you do?
Stephanie Ready (email@example.com) is a broadcaster for The NBA on TNT and NBATV, and former coach for the WNBA and G-League. She lives in Howard County.