With American professional sports beginning to return at a time when the coronavirus is washing through the nation unrestrained, the importance of prioritized COVID-19 testing for sports gives rise to important questions regarding the strain placed on resources otherwise available to the public.
As explained by Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports Philadelphia, efforts by the NBA to secure a quick turnaround in testing amounts to the NBA getting preference over the general public at the laboratory the NBA utilizes. Haberstroh explains that, earlier this week, the NBA switched from Quest Diagnostics to BioReference. Coincidentally, Quest recently made it clear that individuals other than “hospital patients, pre-operative patients in acute care settings and symptomatic healthcare workers” will now have an average turnaround of 4-6 days between collection of sample and outcome of test.
BioReference apparently will be moving more quickly for the NBA, primarily because BioReference seems to be willing to give the NBA priority. As Halberstroh notes, the BioReference website advises that “[i]If you are looking for your COVID-19 PCR (swab) results please note that these may not be available in the patient portal for up to 5-7 days after collection.”
Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist quoted in Halberstroh’s article, separately observes that the MLS is using BioReference, and that the MLS is receiving test results within 24-48 hours.
“MLS is jumping the line, at *best* delaying the public’s results,” Binney tweeted. “It’s a scandal.”
“Scandal” may be a bit strong, if only because we’ve reached a point where things that once were blatantly scandalous are now met with barely a shrug. But it’s definitely a serious ethical consideration, and those with a strong internal compass when it comes to such matters will be troubled by the reality that, at a time when the number of cases are exploding nationally, sports leagues will be getting special treatment when it comes to getting test results quickly, necessarily slowing down the testing process for the general public.
That’s an important point because NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith made it clear nearly three months ago that he wants no special treatment for football.
“I don’t think that anyone in our larger community should suffer simply because we want football to proceed on time,” Smith said in late April. “We know that we are in a situation now where we cannot mass test the people who need it. . . . We have to make sure that they are taken care of first.”
For a while, it appeared that a rapid turnaround of tests for football players would not put a strain on resources for the public. Now, given that too many members of the public have ignored the pandemic and that too many voices in politics and media are encouraging them to ignore the pandemic, the situation has gotten worse and worse and worse.
With no sign that things are getting any better and with the NFL fewer than three weeks away from the start of training camp, the question of whether the NFL will have no qualms about jamming regular testing for 2,560 players (based on an 80-man roster) and coaches, trainers, and other essential staff into a pipeline that generates results quickly while slowing down the process for the rest of the populace becomes critical to the question of whether the NFL’s still-to-be-finalized testing protocol will work.
If De Smith’s comments from April resonate into August, there’s a real chance that it won’t.