• Harrison Wilmot

Sports league shuts COVID out through "bubble"

What is a bubble? In sports, the goal of the bubble format is to keep the coronavirus out and the players inside healthy by keeping a tightly controlled campus environment monitored by staff with social distancing, mask-wearing, and frequent hand-washing. Bubbles prevent you from interacting with the outside world, limiting the players from seeing their family and friends. Not being able to see your family is a big loss for the players, but doing so could lure the virus into the controlled bubble. Professional basketball, hockey, and soccer players and staff all kept covid at bay by staying in their bubble. Baseball didn’t — more on that later.

The NBA’s staff and players must "undergo regular coronavirus testing as determined by the NBA in consultation with its medical experts and the (National Basketball Players Association),” USA Today reported, on keeping players healthy and navigating through our country’s guidelines. All players are tested two weeks in advance to the season and then thoroughly monitored and tested throughout the season using methods like measuring your body temperature, asked about COVID symptoms, and giving them a finger-ring (monitors your heart rate). Besides when there are games, players and staff must social distance, wear masks, and wash their hands consistently for at least twenty seconds. Sports leagues are prioritized with keeping the pandemic out.

NBA fans have their live video feed displayed on large video screens surrounding the court of play.

Bubbles do that. But the MLB decided against it. In July, the MLB opted not to adopt a bubble format for their league. “MLB has the most ambitious schedule of the major sports leagues...a 60-game season in 66 days and...an expanded playoff schedule,” USA Today explained. While a risky move, MLB’s office hoped they made the right decision. Three months and a COVID outbreak later, at least 20 players and staff on a single team, totaled 91 positive tests out of 169,143 player and staff samples. Compare this to the NBA, which didn’t tally a single positive test. Teams traveled all around the country to thirty different stadiums and thousands of different hotels, playing Russian roulette with covid and leaving the entire league susceptible to the virus. Players visited family, ultimately bringing covid to the league and to their families, harming many. “Major League Baseball tried to institute virtual bubbles around its teams,” USA Today reports. “But after multiple games were postponed because of outbreaks on four teams, its abbreviated season has quickly looked as if it might be on the bubble.”

Toronto and Edmonton. Two bubble locations of the NHL. Another successful US sports league on protecting the players from a deadly pandemic. As the NHL transitioned to this bubble format, positive tests were rising, but as the season progressed the NHL announced their ninth straight week without a positive test.

Disney World became the hub for the MLS and NBA’s bubbles. All teams traveled to Disney World and played all their games in the area, reducing contact with covid. Since July 14th, no pro soccer player or staffer has tested positive, nor did any in the NWSL, which changed to a centralized format that reduced travel.

So what have we learned? Bubbles are effective. They keep the virus out and the players safe. While “difficult to organize, expensive to maintain and emotionally taxing on players, who cannot return to their homes for weeks or months at a time,” the New York Times wrote on the bubble’s flaws, bubbles help keep sports running and everyone locked in their houses entertained. We saw that the MLB was a failure, counting 91 positive tests in a span of three months. On the contrary, the NBA, MLS, NWSL, and the NHL all held successful bubbles with almost zero positive tests.

Bubbles might not be the best option, but for now, they work. “So far they have looked very intact and safe, and constant vigilance is going to be required to make sure they stay that way,” Dr. Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist specializing in sports at Emory University, states about the life-span of the bubble format. Bubbles “do not last forever” the New York Times added, as they are just an alternative to this abrupt change in sports and life, in general.


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