Coronavirus: NBA, players association investigating options for rapid blood tests to diagnose COVID-19

Early on Monday evening, during an interview with Ernie Johnson, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said that the league is not going to be able to make any decisions regarding a return to play until at least May. In fact, Silver noted that with how quickly things are changing regarding the coronavirus, he actually knows less now than he did shortly after suspending the season.

What Silver didn’t discuss, however, is that the league and the National Basketball Players Association have been investigating the possibility of acquiring rapid blood tests that could diagnose COVID-19 within 15 minutes. In theory, such tests would help facilitate the league’s ability to restart, but discussions are just in the “exploratory phase,” according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN. 

Multiple league sources close to the situation said the league and players union have been looking at what those familiar with the matter describe as “diabetes-like” blood testing in which someone could, with the prick of a finger, be tested quickly and results could be gained inside of 15 minutes.

“Rapid testing results are key to return to work, return to sports, everything,” one NBA general manager told ESPN, speaking on the condition of anonymity in order to speak candidly. “Whatever job you have and environment you work in, if you’re interacting with people, we’re all going to have to feel safe doing that. Sports isn’t any different.”

While that sounds great in theory, there are obviously many hurdles to clear with such a plan. First and foremost, the tests have to be manufactured and proven accurate. And if that becomes possible, they have to be widely available to the extent that players and league personnel wouldn’t be taking them away from doctors, nurses or other essential employees. 

“Even if the technology is there, is it accessible?” said another athletic training official with first-hand knowledge of the process. “Because obviously we have higher-priority people that may need that, like our emergency workers and health-care professionals that definitely take a priority over our players.”

Beyond that, there’s still the concern that if they do restart and then just one player tests positive, they’ll have to shut everything down all over again. 

Considering Silver’s comments about the league not being able to make any decisions until at least May, and how early we are in the testing process, it’s unwise to get too excited about this report. At this point, the story here is more about the lengths the league is going to investigate options for returning to play, rather than the feasibility of those plans. 

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