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NBA would be better off using resources to get coronavirus tests for people who need them most

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On Tuesday afternoon, word broke that NBA superstar Kevin Durant had tested positive for the coronavirus. He said he had been exhibiting no symptoms and despite the positive test felt perfectly fine.

“Everyone be careful, take care of yourself and quarantine,” Durant told The Athletic. “We’re going to get through this.”

Great sentiment and everyone is glad Durant feels good.

It begs a very simple question though.

Why in the world was a 31-year-old, world-class athlete with no symptoms tested for the coronavirus in the first place?

Durant would, it seems, be among the least vulnerable people on the face of the earth. Yet in the virus hotspot of New York, where he resides, he got one of the coveted tests rather than an untold number of clearly more vulnerable people who have actually shown evidence of COVID-19.

The answer is that the Brooklyn Nets had their entire team tested by a private company. This despite the fact that they had played neither the Utah Jazz, who had player Rudy Gobert test positive, or the Detroit Pistons, who also had an infected player.

Durant hasn’t even played a game all season as he recovers from an Achilles injury. Yet he got tested and came back as one of four Nets players with the virus, just one of whom has been showing even mild symptoms.

“We wish them a speedy recovery,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio said. “But with all due respect, an entire NBA team should not get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 03: Kevin Durant  #7 of the Brooklyn Nets looks on from the bench during the game Phoenix Suns at Barclays Center on February 03, 2020 in New York City.Brooklyn Nets defeated the Phoenix Suns 119-97. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Kevin Durant didn't have a problem getting a test for the coronavirus. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

“Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick.”


That said, before anyone starts grabbing a pitchfork, it is important to note that no one here is trying to act improperly. Not the Nets, who care about their employees, and certainly not any of the players.

The profound lack of tests has been a huge issue when dealing with this virus for numerous reasons, and all issues here stem from that failure. That's not the NBA's fault. A lack of tests causes insufficient data on how widespread the outbreak is — both numerically and geographically — and thus limits containment strategies.

Then there are many who are uncertain if they are carrying the virus. By not knowing, some people are no doubt self-isolating when they don’t need to and thus unable to help care for higher risk individuals who need extra attention and are now at greater risk.

It’s frustrating all around.

Especially when asymptomatic athletes are getting tested.

President Donald Trump was asked Wednesday if “the well-connected go to the front of the line.”

“No,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t say so. But perhaps that’s the story of life. That does happen on occasion, and I’ve noticed where people have been tested fairly quickly.”

The NBA has defended the aggressive testing of its players by noting that some of them were in an affected group. Yes, but that’s true for many. The league also points out that having well-known people test positive has increased awareness and concern about the virus.

“Public health authorities and team doctors have been concerned that, given NBA players’ direct contact with each other and close interactions with the general public, in addition to their frequent travel, they could accelerate the spread of the virus,” league spokesman Mike Bass said.

“Following two players testing positive last week, others were tested and five additional players tested positive. Hopefully, by these players choosing to make their test results public, they have drawn attention to the critical need for young people to follow CDC recommendations in order to protect others, particularly those with underlying health conditions and the elderly.”

Well, maybe. There is no question that Gobert testing positive, and causing the NBA to suspend its season last Wednesday, was a pivotal moment in how the virus was viewed in America. (Same with actor Tom Hanks.) Almost everything changed in that moment, with widespread closings of other sporting events, concerts and schools, and even bars and restaurants within days.

However, having young healthy athletes test positive with no symptoms and no concerns also reinforces the idea to some young people that this is not a virus they should be concerned about.

While appealing to their better selves and hoping they change behavior to protect others is nice in theory, there are plenty of packed spring break beaches and bars that show what a folly that is.

The NBA has been at the forefront of this fight. Its impact has been significant. That’s good. And it isn’t the league’s fault there aren’t enough tests in this country.

Going forward, however, the NBA might be better off using its resources to get tests for the people who need them most.

Let’s see if the cop on the corner or the cook with a fever are OK before checking up on Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Here’s guessing the NBA superstars will be fine regardless.

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