NBA to Require Players to Wear Sensors as Part of Contact Tracing Program

Dec 29, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; General view as the Los Angeles Clippers play against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first half at Staples Center. The event is being held behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is planning to roll out an ambitious aspect of its leaguewide contact tracing program by requiring players and many team staffers to wear sensor devices during all team-organized activities outside of games starting Jan. 7, according to a league memo obtained by ESPN.

Only Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals — designations outlined in the league’s health and safety protocols that include players and specific staff members, such as coaches — will be required to wear Kinexon SafeZone contact sensor devices on the team plane, the team bus, during practices and to and from the arena or their home practice facility in connection with team travel, the memo states.

Not wearing the sensors is subject to discipline, but it’s unclear what the discipline might be. Players are not required to wear the sensors during games or at the team hotel when traveling.

A testing period for the program began Dec. 23 and is expected to be implemented Jan. 7, according to a separate league memo obtained by ESPN.

The sensors do not record GPS location and will activate when coming within close proximity, which is defined as 6 feet, to another person wearing one — a point that health officials across the NBA emphasized to quell concerns about whether individual movements would be monitored. It is expected that the “proximity alarm” feature on the devices, which was active in the Orlando, Florida, bubble, will be disabled this season.

The memo states that the sensors will record “the distance and duration of in-person interactions” with others who are wearing a sensor, which the NBA believes will aid in its contact tracing reviews in instances of positive coronavirus cases. Such reviews will also include interviews of players and staff members, as well as potentially examining camera footage at team facilities, to better understand who might have been exposed to an infected individual.

One health official with direct knowledge of the situation noted that the sensors should significantly help in better determining which players or staff might need to be quarantined should the situation arise.

“We don’t want to have to needlessly quarantine someone that doesn’t need to be,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

This effort is a collaboration of the NBA, the players’ union and medical officials, and officials involved believe it should serve in a proactive manner to identify situations where staff members and players may be interacting in close proximity on a frequent basis that could prove troublesome should an infection occur.

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SOURCE: ESPN, Baxter Holmes