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Can The NBA’s Coronavirus Plan Keep Players Safe?

Nick Greene of Slate spoke with Dr. Abraar Karan about the league’s coronavirus plan.

2020 NBA Finals - Game Three Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The nation is in the middle of a rising third wave of coronavirus, and the NBA is set to resume play in less than a month. While the league successfully managed to supress the virus during the Orlando bubble, the plan for this upcoming season varies from team to team. Nick Greene of Slate spoke with Dr. Abraar Karan, a internal medicine doctor and global health researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital as well as Harvard Medical School, regarding the league’s plans. Suffice it to say, the good doctor was less than impressed. First, Karan found fault with the testing of fans within a certain range of the court.

It appears as if testing is only required for those within 30 feet of the court.

OK, that’s crazy. We have an uncontrolled epidemic right now. We have community transmission all over the country. They’re saying that you can go into the game and you don’t need a test unless you are within 30 feet of the court, which seems to me to be related to how close you are to the players and the safety of the players. What’s the distancing?

Karan noted that there is no ideal distance within a closed indoor environment such as an arena.

There is no ideal distance in the sense that aerosols linger in the air. The further apart you are, the lower your risk is going to be, but that risk doesn’t get eliminated. We’ve seen studies showing aerosols hanging around in rooms for hours and hours. That’s why the indoors are more of a problem in general. For these types of events, we need to wait for a vaccine.

When asked about the Golden State Warriors’ plan to issue 9000 rapid tests and allow 50% capacity, Karan noted the problem that false positives and negatives pose when using these tests.

Yeah. You’re going to have false positives and false negatives. Obviously here, your false negatives are what are going to concern you. Even if the false negative rate is a couple percent, with 9,000 people that comes out to what, 180 people? Getting 9,000 people together indoors in a month—without any reservation I would say that’s an absolutely terrible idea. You run into issues with a lot of things. The actual swabbing itself. The kits, the reagents. Everything has to work perfectly, and even then you miss some.

Karan noted that he would not feel safe attending a game in December. Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers have decided that they will not start the season with fans in attendance, though that could change as the season goes on, especially if a vaccine is available.

You can read the entire interview here.