As the NBA continues to deal with the reality of attempting to play the 2020-21 regular season amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the league sent a memo to teams Wednesday night detailing plans to try to supplement the testing already in place for players and referees with localized gameday testing in all 28 NBA cities.
The memo, a copy of which was obtained by ESPN, asks each team to spend the next two days attempting to find local testing providers; the league plans to discuss those findings with the teams over the weekend with the goal of beginning to implement the extra tests sometime next week. The goal is to find a local provider of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that can turn around at least 40 tests — enough to handle players on both teams, as well that night’s referees — that could be collected the morning of a game and returned at least one hour before the start of the game.
PCR tests are more accurate than the rapid tests but take far longer to process.
While Bioreference, which handles both of the daily tests the NBA is already using — PCR and a rapid test — will continue to be the league’s testing service, the goal in finding local testing in every city is to ensure that, in the event there is an issue with transportation of tests, there is a backup option available to ensure everyone is clear to participate in that night’s game.
Under the current system, for a player or referee to participate in a game, they need to have a negative PCR test from the day before the game, and a negative rapid test from the morning of the game. So, for example, players and referees participating in Thursday’s game between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers would need to have a negative PCR test taken Wednesday, and a negative rapid test taken Thursday morning.
The reason the PCR test is from the day before is because there is roughly a 12-hour processing time on those tests, so the results typically come in overnight. In cities where there is a Bioreference lab, however, those test results can be turned around faster.
The additional testing comes in the wake of the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association agreeing on Tuesday to tighten the league’s health and safety protocols, including, among other things, closing off rooms to non-team guests in hotels on the road, increasing the use of masks and further limiting both team meeting times and player contact. All of this is being done as the NBA tries to play its season during a pandemic that continues to rage across the country and has significantly disrupted the league’s schedule over the past several days.
The NBA has now postponed nine games this season, including eight this week alone. Three of them were scheduled for Wednesday: the Orlando Magic at the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz at Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks at Phoenix Suns.