The NBA did not receive special treatment for the Utah Jazz when it came to coronavirus testing in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, an Oklahoma State Department of Health official told USA TODAY Sports.
Oklahoma officials were prepared with test kits, and 58 people from the Jazz or with connections to the Jazz were tested because it was a “public health decision” based on direct contact with the initial player — Rudy Gobert — who had tested positive, OKDH spokesperson Jamie Dukes said Friday.
When Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, it set off a chain of events that led to testing.
A second Jazz player, Donovan Mitchell, also tested positive for the virus.
While there is a national shortage of tests for COVID-19, the answer to how 58 people were tested while others have struggled to get tests is much simpler than the NBA using its financial resources to strong-arm agencies into testing.
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The decision to test the Toronto Raptors — one of the teams that had recently played the Jazz — was made by public health officials in Toronto with testing directed by those health officials, a person with knowledge of the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about Toronto’s plans.
The Detroit Pistons, who also recently had a game with the Jazz, are in self-isolation and are “in close contact with our organization’s health care providers and medical experts, with government and public health officials, and with the NBA to ensure that the potential risk is well understood and all appropriate protective measures are taken,” the Pistons said in a statement.
Rishi Desai is the chief medical officer and pediatric infectious disease physician for Osmosis, a digital platform for learning medicine and the health sciences. He also used to work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an epidemic intelligence service officer investigating disease outbreaks.
He understands Oklahoma’s decision to test who it did. He called athletes, team personnel and traveling reporters “super spreaders,” people who are often in direct contact with several other people especially in arenas with thousands of people.
“The average person is not exposing as many other people as a super spreader,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “Whenever there’s an outbreak and you know you have these potential super spreaders who have the potential to be around a lot of people, you want to really get on top of that situation.”
That’s exactly what officials in Oklahoma did after Gobert tested positive. They wanted to know who had the virus and the potential for it to spread.
The Oklahoma City Thunder did not have test kits procured and in their building at the ready. After Gobert was tested, Oklahoma health officials began preparing to do more testing if necessary. Once Gobert tested positive, health officials rushed to Chesapeake Energy Arena with kits and began testing, a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports.
The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive nature of the testing.
Officials asked each person questions about symptoms and whether they had direct contact with Gobert and began testing, which consisted of two swabs — one in the nose and one in the throat — to collect cells.
Two hundred and fifty COVID-19 test kits remain available in Oklahoma, according to The Oklahoman, which cites epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed.
Last week, the NBA sent a memo to teams instructing them to identify a facility “that could conduct testing for COVID-19 and a plan in place to facilitate such testing. This facility should be one that is specifically prepared to handle COVID-19 testing (and ideally appropriate clinical patient assessments for suspected COVID-19 cases).”
The league also told teams to have “an arrangement with an infectious disease specialist who is consulting with the team, including who is available to support the team in communicating with the relevant public health authorities.”
While that doesn’t guarantee testing, it ensures teams are prepared to deal with the right people when time is of the essence. Also, many NBA teams have relationships with local hospitals and medical schools.
“It makes perfect sense that if you have a good relationship with a local medical university or hospital that you would be able to easily coordinate getting team personnel tested,” Desai said. “That would require logistics and operations and all the things basketball teams do because they’re well-resourced and have gotten really good at it. One part of this is that they have connections. Another is that they have the logistical muscle to get things like this done. It shows.”
The Atlanta Hawks have a partnership with Emory Healthcare, the largest health care provider in Georgia, and it’s likely Emory works in conjunction with the Hawks to locate test kits if necessary. Hawks partial owner Grant Hill said on TNT Thursday that the Hawks couldn’t test all players.
But a person familiar with the situation told USA TODAY Sports the team would be in position to test personnel. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive nature of the testing.
Desai understands the frustration from people who can’t get tested. He wants to reframe the discussion and look at why there aren’t enough tests and not who is or isn’t getting tested.
“We’re living through a period of scarcity, and when resources (testing kits) are scarce, it is very tempting to start to fight and compete for those resources,” Desai said. “But I would say the most important thing to do is to step back and say, ‘Why are these resources scarce in the first place?’ “
Desai said in three months the U.S. has tested less than 10,000 people, while South Korea, with 1/6 of the population, tested about 250,000 people in a similar time frame.
“If we’re doing 150 times worse in testing, that gives you a sense of the scarcity of this resource,” he said. “In that context, people start to wonder and fight for that. ‘How come he’s getting it? How come she’s getting it? How come I’m not getting it?’ Those are reasonable. I understand the frustration, but I think the frustration should be redirected at our leadership. ‘How come we, as a country, can’t get our act together?’ ”
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