Why the NBA Is Handling the Pandemic Better Than the MLB

A string of positive cases doesn’t bode well for the rest of baseball season

Yasmin Tayag
Medium Coronavirus Blog
4 min readAug 3, 2020

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Credit: Pool / Getty Images

Sports fans recently enjoyed some respite as both the NBA and MLB returned to TV screens across the country. But things are different now as both leagues have been transformed by the Covid-19 pandemic: In lieu of cheering crowds at the NBA’s Disney World arena in Orlando, Florida, virtual fans flicker as viewers are instructed to “tap to cheer” via the NBA app. And at the few baseball fields that are hosting MLB games, some of the fans are made of cardboard, supplemented by loud noises.

But a rash of Covid-19 cases among players and staff has cast a pall over the rest of the baseball season. On Sunday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals reported six cases among players and staff; a week ago, the Miami Marlins had 20 among players and coaches. League employees are getting sick too, and the MLB schedule has been thrown into disarray. The NBA, meanwhile, has not reported any positive cases in its Disney World bubble so far despite basketball being a much more close-contact sport.

It appears that the NBA is doing something right.

In June, the NBA sent a 100-page document to players and employees, laying out extremely restrictive guidelines for life inside the Disney World bubble, where players will live and play until October. It includes a protocol for aggressively testing players and quarantining those who test positive, and it also outlines extreme measures for contact tracing, the process of identifying any individual that has come into contact with a person who tested positive. As I reported in Elemental in June, the NBA is using “video technology” to identify moments of close contact, defined as players getting within six feet of someone for at least 15 minutes (per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines) or being exposed to “infectious secretions or excretions.”

The MLB has a 100-page manual for restarting the league, and like the NBA’s guidebook, it includes a plan for what to do if players test positive and a plan for contact tracing. The problem, it appears, is how well these plans are being executed.

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Yasmin Tayag
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.