WASHINGTON — As a coronavirus outbreak among the Miami Marlins upends Major League Baseball’s now days-old season, the NBA restarts its interrupted trajectory with an inverse storyline – no outbreaks at present, and all players on lockdown.
The Disney World “bubble” hosting the NBA within the massive ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex relies on constant coronavirus testing and a captive population to deliver what is promised to be a safe season resuming Thursday.
The Washington Wizards will face the Phoenix Suns at 4 p.m. Friday, with all players on the Wizards’ roster currently testing negative for the virus.
In an interview Wednesday, the team’s top primary care physician said the safety protocols and contained physical atmosphere make the preparations for the season immensely different from the dynamics that have already botched the return of professional baseball.
“What we do here every day, you have to open up an application on your phone, take your temperature, take your oxygen saturation, fill out a symptom questionnaire, and that all gets uploaded to a database,” Dr. Bryan Murtaugh said. “[The health data] go to something called a magic band. You wear this band on your wrist, and the information allows you to access different practice facilities, or to go outside your hotel room.”
Murtaugh has served as a team physician with the Wizards for five years, and is the director of sports medicine at MedStar Health’s National Rehabilitation Network.
From his point of view, Murtaugh said it started as an opaque picture of how the NBA would protect its players during the pandemic, but daily virus testing within the bubble served as a reassuring cornerstone of the emerging health strategy.
“Because we have a contained population here, and if anyone were to test positive, protocol calls for the person to immediately isolate elsewhere on the campus,” Murtaugh said. “We would do a series of contact tracing with the team and the staff and whoever they may have interacted with, and then decide the next steps going forward.”
The head physician said a few days of isolation and the confined atmosphere required some acute adjustment, but he believes the measures now in place will meet the moment, serving the best interests of players, staff and ultimately, fans, outside the bubble.
“It's really an unprecedented time not only in sports but in sports medicine,” Murtaugh said. “Trying to create the safest possible environment for some of the best athletes in the world during the middle of a pandemic.”