What happens if an NBA player leaves the bubble? Here are the rules for coronavirus testing & compliance

While there is plenty of excitement ahead of the NBA’s season restart, there is also plenty of uneasiness amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The league’s “bubble” idea sounds great in theory, but the presence of the coronavirus can’t be completely eliminated as teams attempt to finish the 2019-20 season at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. Players have already left and re-entered the “bubble,” including Clippers guard Lou Williams, who was forced into quarantine after grabbing dinner from an Atlanta strip club during an excused absence.

MORE: Everything you need to know about the NBA’s bubble

Keeping the campus safe for all involved will be a major challenge. It’s fair to be skeptical of any league’s appraoch, but the NBA has taken several measures to ensure departing players will not jeopardize the health of others and derail the season. 

How often will NBA players be tested for the coronavirus?

As part of its 100-plus page health and safety document (via ESPN’s Tim Bontemps and Brian Windhorst), the NBA says players will be tested for COVID-19 “regularly,” but it did not specify exactly how many times players will be tested on a daily or weekly basis. Players could be tested daily under certain circumstances.

What happens if an NBA player tests positive for coronavirus?

If a player tests positive for COVID-19, that player will be isolated, then retested to verify the initial test didn’t produce a false positive. If additional testing confirms the original result, that player will be out for at least 14 days. The player would also have to pass a cardiac screening in order to be cleared to play.

In that scenario, anybody who had been in close contact with the player for at least 15 minutes or had direct contact with the player will be tested.

When is an NBA player allowed to leave the bubble?

A player can leave at any time, but if the absence is unexcused, that player would be forced to quarantine for 10-14 days upon return.

Some examples of excused absences:

  • Receiving team-directed medical care off campus
  • Birth of a child
  • Illness/death in family
  • Previously scheduled family wedding

What happens when an NBA player re-enters the bubble?

If a player is returning from an unexcused absence, that player will be subject to enhanced testing (deep nasal swab) and the 10- to 14-day quarantine. That player would also face a reduction in salary for any games missed during the absence and/or quarantine.

An excused absence would force a player to quarantine for only four days as long as that player tests negative for COVID-19 each day the player is outside of the Orlando campus.

From the NBA’s health and safety document (via ESPN’s Bobby Marks):

  • Enhanced testing: Testing will include nasopharyngeal swab testing.
  • Quarantine: Tens days of quarantine in a hotel room or other campus property (which may be extended up to a total of 14 days, as directed by a consulting infectious disease physician designated by the NBA for the case). If, however, a player leaves the campus for extenuating circumstances with prior league approval (e.g., need to receive team-directed medical care off-campus, birth of a child, documented severe illness or death in family, or previously scheduled family wedding), and (a) during each day off-campus undergoes a daily PCR test and returns negative test results each time, or (b) if the players leaves for an extended absence but undergoes a daily PCR test and returns a negative test result for at least the seven days preceding his return to campus, then the player’s quarantine on the campus will be four days (subject to extension by a consulting infectious disease physician designated by the NBA for the case). The player must undergo his final PCR test prior to exiting quarantine via a nasopharyngeal swab.

Could a coronavirus outbreak end the NBA season?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has admitted the league’s season could be suspended or canceled if there is a large COVID-19 outbreak.

“Never ‘full steam ahead, no matter what,'” Silver said in June. “One thing we are learning about this virus is [that] much [is] unpredictable, and we and our players, together with their union, look at the data on a daily basis. If there were something to change that was outside of the scope of what we are playing for, [then] certainly we would revisit our plans.”

It is unclear how many positive tests it would take in order for the NBA to consider a suspension of play.

“The occurrence of a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the resumption” of the season, the health and safety document states.

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