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Opinion: Why the NBA is pressing on with the season despite rising COVID-19 cases

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We have entered the stage of the COVID-19 pandemic where it’s difficult to reconcile increasing cases due to the highly transmissible omicron variant while trying to live day-to-day life.

It’s a paradox.

But it’s also why I wasn’t surprised when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on Tuesday there is no plan to pause the season now, which is what USA TODAY Sports has reported since late last week.

"This virus will not be eradicated, and we’re going to have to live with it, and that’s what we’re experiencing in the league right now," Silver told ESPN’s Malika Andrews on "NBA Today."

"The right and responsible thing to do, taking all the factors into consideration, is to continue to play."

President Joe Biden had similar words earlier in the day when he said, "Are we going back to March 2020 — not this last March 2021, but March 2020 — when the pandemic first hit? That’s what I keep getting asked. The answer is absolutely no. No."

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Biden then rattled off three reasons why today is different than nearly two years ago when the NBA paused the season following Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19: vaccines, preparation and more knowledge about the virus.

The new normal constantly evolves, frustrating as it is. That’s also our reality.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has reiterated that the league currently has no plans to pause the season amid rising COVID-19 cases.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has reiterated that the league currently has no plans to pause the season amid rising COVID-19 cases.

"Maybe we can demonstrate that there’s a way people can move forward, again, recognizing that this virus unfortunately isn’t going anywhere and it’s just going to become part of our lives for the foreseeable future," Silver said.

I listened to ESPN personality Pablo Torre’s podcast featuring Joseph Allen, an associate professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

"There are real costs when the economy closes down," Allen said. "Millions of jobs are at stake. It’s just not sports. ... These are jobs and people and their livelihoods, and all that influences health. So, this is just not a money issue."

Allen also pointed out the expanded toolkit available today. "If you’re vaccinated and boosted, most people are going to fare just fine," he said, adding, "We take vaccines to avoid the worst of the worst. ... A booster re-ups protection against infection and enhances protection against severe outcomes — hospitalizations and deaths."

It would be naïve to ignore financial implications. In 2020, the phrase "force majeure" entered the sports lexicon, which would allow the NBA to terminate the collective bargaining agreement if the league couldn’t fulfill contractual obligations due to extenuating circumstances, such as a pandemic. The league avoided that in 2020 and wants to avoid that now and in the future.

Beyond players and owners, there is an ecosystem of nearly 55,000 employees who rely on the NBA for income. Shutdowns aren’t on the radar, not just in the NBA but across the business landscape. There is a way to protect people, as Allen emphasized, without another economic disaster.

"Our ability to find a way to keep operating is also quite significant for society to show there are ways, despite living in this COVID era, that we can find a safe and responsible way to keep going," Silver said.

When Silver talks about the pandemic morphing into an endemic, he’s not a commissioner playing an infectious disease expert on TV. He’s a commissioner who has listened to experts.

The NBA understands players will test positive, games will be postponed and rosters will look unusual with players on short-term contracts due to players entering health and safety protocols.

Finding some sense of normalcy while employing necessary safeguards against illness is the way forward for the NBA. And everyone else, it seems, too.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Why NBA isn't pausing season despite rising COVID cases