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NBA Should Take The Lead On COVID 19

There is a lot of concern about the COVID 19 virus and it’s potential impact on many aspects of our personal freedom and normal daily activities, activities like attending sporting events with large numbers of fans, but so far in North America no one seems to be  doing anything effective beyond wishful thinking and banning the media from locker rooms is doing less than nothing. The NBA has been a leader in social issues and they should be taking the lead on COVID 19 before some well meaning government agency or our litigious lawyers force more dranconian measures.

To defuse possible future fears of coming to an event where other patrons may be spreading a serious infectious disease, NBA needs a process to refuse entry to obviously sick individuals and allow fans with tickets to get a fair credit towards a future game or event if they feel sick without having to prove illness.

It should be accepted by all that the number of infections and deaths from COVID 19 in North America is going to rise dramatically and actions need to be taken now before all sporting events are suspended and professional games are played in empty arenas as is happening in Italy already, as reported in The Guardian.

All domestic sporting activity at all levels in Italy has been suspended until 3 April at the earliest, the Italian national Olympic committee (CONI) has announced.

This includes all matches in Serie A, Italy’s highest football division, but CONI does not speak for Italian clubs or national teams competing in international competitions such as the Champions League. All last weekend’s Serie A matches were played behind closed doors. Uefa has announced that both legs of Roma’s Europa League tie against Sevilla will be played without spectators.

Action doesn’t have to be perfect as there is no way to guarantee an infected person won’t be at a major sporting event, but that’s not an excuse for doing nothing and hardly a rationale for giving up. The risk can be mitigated and the public can be assured an organization, a business, or a sports franchise is at the very least looking out for their safety.

Every major sporting venue requires attendees to go thru security screening. It would be relatively simple to include basic screening for fever/ elevated temperature and the obvious signs of being sick such as runny nose, cough, or red eyes/tired appearance.  These are also signs of the common cold or flu, but under the circumstances, patrons who don’t appear to be sick shouldn’t be put in a situation where they are near people who appear obviously ill.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea.

The disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. People can also catch COVID-19 if they breathe in droplets from a person with COVID-19 who coughs out or exhales droplets. This is why it is important to stay more than 1 meter (3 feet) away from a person who is sick. – World Health Organization

Arguably, people who appear sick should never have been allowed into venues in the past and now its up to the organization using the building to put in place measures so those who are denied entry don’t feel cheated or mistreated.

Even these proposed measures will not stop everyone who potentially has COVID 19, but IT WILL HELP and its the best health organizations have come up with so far. It will make those attending these events have confidence that at the very least their risk isn’t higher by attending an event than they face in their day-to-day life in a large city.

Additionally, passing out hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes at the door would help patrons feel more prepared to look out for themselves as well.

Using the example of airport screening already being used in some jurisdictions, the magazine Science gives us the pros and cons of the process.

“Ultimately, measures aimed at catching infections in travelers will only delay a local epidemic and not prevent it,” says Ben Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong. He and others say screening is often instituted to show that a government is taking action, even if the impact is marginal.

Still, researchers say, there can be benefits. Evaluating and quizzing passengers before they board planes—…—may prevent some who are sick or were exposed to a virus from traveling.

At least one New Zealander was prevented from boarding an evacuation flight from Wuhan, China, after failing a health check

(However) Passengers can also take fever-suppressing drugs or lie about their symptoms

Taking action reduces risk and there is no excuse for doing nothing to protect fans especially while teams take steps to protect players from the very slight risk of being exposed to the media.

It will be challenging to get “die-hard” fans to cooperate, so to make this work, the NBA will have to take some financial risks and accept the fact some patrons will abuse any process they put in place to gain extra benefits. But it would it be worth it to show they are doing what they can to lower the risks to their fans.

Teams should be prepared to allowed fans to exchange tickets for a future game on the honor system. Patrons denied at the door should get a parking credit and food voucher in addition to a credit for the event they are missing. Attendants in the aisle and food vendors should be well equiped with free hand santizer and wipes. Extra cleaning staff should be seen wiping down everything in sight during the event. And teams can’t be afraid of asking a patron who appears ill to leave during the game and provide them with compensation and assume the patron was caught unawares that they were getting ill.

It isn’t going to be easy or cheap to do what may not even work, but it will delay or prevent what could become a postseason without fans in the building!

Just to emphasize how important this is, the same rules must be applied to the media, employees, management, coaches and even players. This will take leadership that, fortunately, in a crisis, the NBA has shown they’ve had … in the past. The weak announcement of banning media to protect players notwithstanding.

The last thing the NBA needs is for a fan to test positive for COVID 19 who says he was just at a game where some fan was coughing in the seat behind him all night or worse, that a sick player landed on him in his very expensive floor seats.

The NBA needs to take the lead in protecting fans from COVID 19 because at the moment, it looks like they’ve put their fans health a distant second in their priorities.


Stephen Brotherston