As the coronavirus pandemic continues to halt everyday life around the world, the United States has fallen woefully behind other countries in its ability to produce mass testing. There has been a testing shortage since the virus first started spreading in the country, with data showing the U.S. testing only 125 people per million at the beginning of the week, per the New York Times. That’s far short of South Korea, which is reportedly testing 20,000 citizens per day, despite the virus hitting both countries around the same time.
Even people who are experiencing obvious Covid-19 symptoms in the United States are often failing to secure tests. That hasn’t been the case in the NBA, where the league has been rapidly testing players for the virus ever since Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive and set off a chain reaction that ultimately led to the season being suspended.
Four Brooklyn Nets players tested positive for coronavirus Tuesday, including superstar forward Kevin Durant. That raises the total to seven NBA players who have tested positive for the virus following Gobert, teammate Donovan Mitchell, and Detroit Pistons forward Christian Wood.
The rate NBA players are being tested has far exceeded the rate the general public is being tested. When the Jazz pushed through 58 tests in Oklahoma City for their traveling party following Gobert’s positive test, it exceeded the national per-state average of 55 tests per day at the start of the virus’ spread.
Is the NBA’s ability to test its players quicker than the public another example of American inequality between the wealthy and everyone else? Or is there another reason the league has been able to push through so many tests so quickly? The answer appears to be a little bit of both.
NBA teams are commissioning private tests
As people in New York City have found a substantial lack of testing available to the public, the Brooklyn Nets were able to test every player on the team. Why? The Nets paid “out of pocket” for a private company to test for the virus, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The Oklahoma City Thunder also appear to have secured private tests. As the team was quarantined in its locker room on the night they were supposed to play the Jazz, the Thunder found a way to test their players for coronavirus without using the tests available to the public. From the New York Times:
Thunder players were asked to stay in the locker room after the game against Utah was canceled so they could be checked for fevers. A Thunder spokesman said on Sunday that Thunder players were subsequently tested for the coronavirus after the team secured test kits through “alternative” means so as not to further deplete the supply in Oklahoma, but results had not yet been announced as of Sunday night
Celebrities and wealthy corporations in the U.K. have reportedly been privately testing for Covid-19. The private sector reportedly has the ability to test in the U.S. as well at a level that far exceeds what the government has been able to produce.
NBA teams are considered potential “super-spreaders”
The Utah Jazz’s ability to test 58 people following Gobert’s positive test was a calculated “public health decision” made by Oklahoma officials. A former CDC employee told USA Today that decision was made because athletes are considered potential “super-spreaders” due the number of people they come into contact with.
This is how Rishi Desai explained it to USA Today.
“The average person is not exposing as many other people as a super spreader,” he told USA Today Sports. “Whenever there’s an outbreak and you know you have these potential super spreaders who have the potential to be around a lot of people, you want to really get on top of that situation.”
The Toronto Raptors were also tested after playing the Jazz in their most recent game on March 9 before Gobert’s positive test halted the season. The decision to administer those tests was made by public officials in Toronto, per USA Today.
The NBA issued a statement on why its teams have been able to get tested for the virus quicker than the public Tuesday evening:
NBA spokesman Mike Bass on NBA teams receiving Coronavirus tests. pic.twitter.com/rKOdhiCCw4— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) March 18, 2020
The league and public health officials believe NBA players could accelerate the spread of the virus given their close interactions with the public. That is part of the reason why some teams have received priority testing.
NBA teams already have close relationships with health care providers
Even before Gobert tested positive, the league was in contact with teams about preparing to test for the virus, per ESPN. Stephen Curry was one player who was tested after experiencing flu-like symptoms, but the test came back negative. The Lakers plan to test for the virus on Wednesday.
The league told its teams to find a facility that could conduct Covid-19 testing and make an arrangement with an infectious disease specialist for additional consulting, per USA Today.
According to The Daily Beast, the NBA already has the information on hand to rapidly identify any potential medical issues, which also helped them get tests done more quickly.
The lack of testing available to the public is a failing of the federal government
It’s natural for the public to be upset that NBA teams have been able to push so many tests through while regular people get denied the same opportunity.
As South Korea and other countries lap the U.S. in available testing, the issue isn’t just that the NBA is getting preferential treatment. The wider problem is the scarcity of resources available to the public due the an inability to get ahead of containment efforts by U.S. leadership.
The NBA has connections to health care providers, and it has lots of money. Both of those things have helped push tests through ahead of the general public. Don’t be mad at NBA teams for testing for coronavirus. Be upset the United States doesn’t have the infrastructure to extend testing to everyone else.