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Dr. Glenn Copeland, noted medical director, believes NBA can mitigate risks inside Orlando bubble

The three-zone method is key


The NBA is planning to implement extensive precautions in Orlando, Florida next month to ensure that their athletes and staff will be housed in the safest possible environment. Several of the most notable scientists and doctors in America, including Dr. Fauci, have applauded the proposed safety guidelines and protocols which will track and hopefully stop the spread of Covid-19 within the Walt Disney environment.

While it’s expected a number of athletes may contract the disease, the NBA is confident it can sequester them and eliminate their symptoms before further spread of the virus.

But what about long term effects of the coronavirus?

To answer this question and more, we asked Covid-expert Dr. Glenn Copeland about the risks that come with such a scenario. Dr. Copeland serves as the medical director for the Toronto Blue Jays and Ottawa Red Blacks while also serving in an advisory role to 20 teams throughout the four major American leagues and at QuestCap.

Dr. Copeland was quick to commend the work of NBA commissioner Adam Silver and his staff in preparing for the season’s upcoming resumption.

While the league refers to their Covid-free zone as the ‘bubble,’ other sports leagues have a different term for it. Dr. Copeland refers to it as the Three-Zone Method.

Three-Zone Method

Outer Zone

“The Outer Zone is the world. It’s where we do our day-to-day life.”

In terms of the NBA bubble, think of it as not only the surrounding area that includes the city of Orlando but also the parts of Disney park that envelop the Gran Destino, the Grand Floridian, the Yacht Club and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

“The whole basis for what we have to do is stop people from catching the virus. It’s as basic as that.”

Middle Zone (Testing Zone)

“The area that is the protectorate of the inner zone. This is the testing zone, whether it be PCR testing, antigen testing, antibody testing, etc.”

But as Brian Windhorst suggested after reading the NBA’s 113-page Protocols and Safety Report, players may not be tested daily. So, the NBA will need to take other measured steps to ensure athletes don’t enter the ESPN Wide World of Sports with any symptoms of the virus.

“Also in this zone, you can do the basic medical stuff, ie temperature checks and symptom checks. In most cases, you will get symptoms. It might be mild, may be a sore throat, an upper respiratory cough, difficulty breathing, loss of smell or taste, higher fevers. It could be any one of those.“

If athletes show no signs of the virus, it can be assumed they do not carry the virus. In some cases, it may be up to the players to identify their own symptoms honestly, and volunteer for further testing.

Inner Zone

“It has to be as Covid-free as possible. If you’ve passed all of the testing and symptom checks from the middle zone, we have to be 98-99 percent sure that there is no Covid-19 within the inner zone. That’s exactly what the NBA is doing with the bubble. We call it the Inside Zone. It’s a great and safe way to try and start sports.”

It isn’t full proof. We’ve seen members of the Philadelphia Phillies as well as the Clemson Tigers test positive just this week.

“Look back three to four weeks ago at the German Premier Soccer League. Before the first weekend, two players tested positive for Covid. That is going to happen. I hate to say it, but I would expect that we are going to see an NBA player or two or three test positive. The key is to prevent the spread.”

Can the NBA Stop the Spread?

“Yeah, a player is going to test positive and guess what? He’s going to isolate, he’s going to quarantine and he’s going to come back. We’re going to take every precaution necessary, but we have to live with Covid for the time being.”

The NBA apparently needs to make peace with a few NBA players contracting the disease, isolate them, go through the steps to recovery as quickly as possible before getting them back up to speed and re-acclimated with their teammates.

But should players be comfortable with that?

For this reason the NBA players will need to police themselves as well as others. You’ve by now heard of the ‘snitch line’ that will allow players and staff to report those who break the sanctity of the inner zone. While the NBA has been adamant they will not stop players from properly leaving the bubble, they must be vigilant in policing those who do so.

“I commend the NBA for not letting up on this. They can’t let up. What happens if a food handler and unfortunately their wife comes home the night before after working in a facility that had an outbreak? You can’t live in a complete bubble.”

Protecting the inner zone will be paramount to the feasibility of completing the season and playoffs. While Dr. Copeland admits the possibility of players contracting the disease is high, he is extremely confident of the NBA’s ability to track and eliminate the spread before it would lead to shutting down the entire operation.

“The place that concerns me is if we can’t prevent the spread. If that happens, our calculations have been off. But seeing what I’ve seen in the Taiwan baseball league, the South Korean baseball league and the German Premier league, they’ve been able to do this and I know the NBA will be able to make this happen.”

Should the NBA be more wary of long term effects?

Recovery from Covid-19 doesn’t come without an extensive potential set of drawbacks. In addition to the damage it can do to one’s lungs, there is clotting, heart conditions even brain damage that has been discovered in the past few months with those who have gotten infected.

“22 percent of people with the virus could end up with heart issues according to the Journal of Medical Association. The virus can actually effect the heart. We are now finding that there could be longer term effects even though you’ve recovered from the initial effect of the virus. The long term effects are there.”

“This virus is only four or five months old.” spoke with Dr. Sheri Dewan, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in Illinois, who relayed a study from China.

“Neurology showed that 36.4 percent of patients had neurologic issues.”

NBA players will potentially be forced back into action after contracting the virus without any idea of how doing so can effect them or their families in the long term. While the NBA plan includes a cardiac screening before allowing infected players to resume action, there is still so much to learn from this disease. It’s worth considering if playing games without full and extensive knowledge of both the immediate and long term risks is wise.

“Life is going to move forward. It’s a return to safe life that the NBA is going to show us can be done. We know there will be drawbacks,” Copeland continued.

Fans are desperate for escapism in a world turned upside down, but have we completely evaluated the risks that these athletes and their families may be subjecting themselves to?

Hearing the confidence expressed by Dr. Fauci and Dr. Copeland should soothe some of those concerns, but remember that no perfect scenario exists until a vaccine is discovered.

One thing is for certain, players electing to suit up next month should be commended for more than just a desire to collect a paycheck or satisfy a craving to play basketball. And if any prefer to protect themselves, their families or prioritize other matters like social justice, the league and its fans should fully support those decisions.

For more from Oleh and I’s conversation with Dr. Copeland, please check out our podcast below! Thanks for reading!