Jan 12, 2021 - Health

NBA training staffs are bearing the brunt of painstaking COVID protocols

NBA players stretching
Photo: Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The NBA's COVID-19 protocol is necessarily rigorous, but it's thus far had a disproportionate effect on teams' training staffs.

The state of play: The league's 153-page document includes myriad new responsibilities, with team employees in charge of testing, contact tracing and more.

  • These roles tend to land on trainers, stretching them thin on a daily basis and hindering their ability to perform their actual job.
  • A typical trainer's game day can last up to 16 hours, including two separate prep sessions (one for the morning shootaround; one for the game) and four treatment sessions per player.
  • Now, on top of that, they're also responsible for the time-consuming, logistical aspects of corralling players for testing and compliance.

What they're saying: ESPN's Baxter Holmes interviewed trainers and league officials about their experience so far this season.

  • Decline in player care: "What scares me — and I know it's happening — is that their normal job of doing health care on players [is impaired]," said one league health source. "I've had some trainers tell me, 'I haven't touched a player in two weeks because I've been so busy doing all this logistics and testing and all that.' That's concerning."
  • Trainers' mental health: "Every waking hour seems to be committed to [the protocols]," said one head athletic trainer. "You wonder, 'God, I barely got through today, how am I going to do this another 100-something times?'"

The big picture: Trainers bear the brunt of the daily rigors, but they're just part of a larger system whose efficacy trails its intent.

  • NBA contact tracing follows the CDC guidance that 15 minutes of exposure within six feet of a known positive in a 24-hour period constitutes close contact, which then requires isolation.
  • Yes, but: While on-court tracking shows opponents don't spend more than six minutes in close contact during a game, it doesn't take into account the increased viral shedding caused by high intensity exercise, infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja told The Athletic (subscription).

The bottom line: NBA training staffs are stretched thin despite employing up to eight people. So you can imagine what this is like at the college or high school levels, where there are far fewer trainers, but the risk of COVID-19 is no less real.

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