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All 22 NBA teams involved in the restart traveled to Disney World last week to enter the bubble where they’ll conclude the 2019-20 season. So far, at least two players have tested positive for COVID-19 since arriving in Orlando, which is slightly concerning. Overall, however, things seem to be going to plan so far.  

However, with a situation as fluid and complex as a pandemic, the league always has to be on its toes. As such, it’s adding an extra layer to its return to play protocol. In order to guard against false negatives, players and team staff who have recovered from the virus, but then test positive again, must undergo an antibody test. Via ESPN:

Amid concerns among teams over the potential for false positives impacting players returning from COVID-19, the NBA on Wednesday updated its protocols to add an antibody test for players and staff who have recovered from the virus, according to a memo obtained by ESPN.

Because people who have recovered from COVID-19 can still have dead virus cells in their system be detected by tests, the league has now included the antibody test as part of its protocol for players and staff returning from the virus, according to the memo.

At least one player who contracted COVID-19, recovered and was subsequently cleared to travel to Orlando had registered several negative tests at Disney World and cleared quarantine upon arrival but later tested positive, sources said.

Take a player like Russell Westbrook, for example. He tested positive and thus hasn’t been able to join the Rockets inside the bubble. Say he completes the quarantine process, tests negative multiple times, gets his cardiac screening and is cleared to rejoin the team. Then, a few weeks or so after he returns to action, one of his regular COVID-19 tests comes back positive — perhaps just ahead of a playoff game. 

Based on the protocol, a positive tests means a player has to go into quarantine, and wouldn’t be able to play. But with someone who has previously had the virus, it could just be a case of the test picking up dead cells in the body. In theory, an antibody test would show whether or not a player has recovered and, if body has fought off the virus. 

Again, this process is just for players who have previously had the virus, and then test positive after multiple negative tests. A player who tests positive for the first time must go through the standard quarantine procedure. 

While this kind of scenario seems like it will be pretty rare, it’s important for the league to figure out their procedure ahead of time, rather than trying to make a decision on the fly in the middle of the playoffs. This is a complicated and scary situation, and it’s always better to be as prepared as possible.