LOS ANGELES — A handful of NBA teams, including the Lakers, have offered coronavirus testing for their players since Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first to test positive March 11, whether they have symptoms or not, providing them a service that isn’t available to the general public.
Due to a shortage of coronavirus testing in America, health officials asked public clinics to test only those with severe symptoms. Private clinics that offer testing are not placed under similar restrictions, but are encouraged to limit their testing to those with severe symptoms. In Los Angeles County, as of Monday afternoon, only 1,100 people had been tested, which amounts to about .01% of the county’s population.
NBA teams, though, often have better access to medical care than others. Once the league took steps to combat the threat of coronavirus, they asked teams to identify an infectious disease specialist and a process for testing their players should the need arise.
President Trump was asked about it Wednesday and admitted that some people get preferential treatment.
“No, I wouldn’t say so, but perhaps that’s been the story of life,” he said of whether athletes should get tested. “That does happen on occasion. I’ve noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly.”
Teams often made arrangements for testing through established connections with hospitals and medical facilities. When it was decided they needed to test their players, most teams paid for the tests to be administered and analyzed at private facilities. The Utah Jazz were an exception, with their traveling party and media members tested by Oklahoma health officials once Gobert tested positive.
So far, the Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and Jazz have all announced that their teams were tested. The Lakers did not announce their plans to test the team, simply that they were following the next steps in their protocol following four positive tests for players on the Nets, who played the Lakers on March 10, each team’s final game before the season was suspended indefinitely.
Testing was optional for the Lakers, and had been offered in the past. Most Lakers players were tested Wednesday morning at the team facility before going into a 14-day self-quarantine, according to people who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
As more stories emerge of the nationwide shortage of testing, there was a backlash to the teams’ access to testing. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was among the critics.
“We wish them a speedy recovery,” de Blasio said on Twitter. “But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested. Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”
That is a perspective the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings have adopted. Neither team has tested their teams because of the shortage of testing in California.
“We’re in the same boat as everybody,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said on a conference call. “It’s very difficult to find a test in California and many places, so if any of our players do come down sick or any of our employees, we’ll (do) our best to get a test, but there’s definitely frustration that we don’t all have access to them, but there’s nothing we can do about it. So we just have to follow the advice of the medical experts and our local officials and leaders and do our best.”
The NBA did not specifically respond to criticisms of players being tested, but reasoned that players being tested was in the interest of public health. In a statement released Tuesday, NBA spokesman Mike Bass referenced players’ frequent travel, which is done on charter planes and often from private terminals, as one reason for a fear that they might accelerate the spread of the virus. He also mentioned their “close interactions with the general public.”
“Following two players testing positive last week, others were tested and five additional players tested positive,” the statement continued. “Hopefully, by these players choosing to make their test results public, they have drawn attention to the critical need for young people to follow CDC recommendations in order to protect others, particularly those with underlying health conditions and the elderly.”
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