Major League Soccer has resumed play. MLB, the NBA and the NHL will all be back on the diamond, court and ice in the coming weeks.
All of those leagues have COVID-19 testing as part of their return to play. But there are growing concerns about the availability of coronavirus tests and how the sports world may impact the chances for other citizens to get tested.
When MLS launched its return to the field on Wednesday, Orlando City and Inter Miami had every player, coach and staff member at Disney tested. They’ll do the same for the other 22 teams who are in Orlando for the tournament. Two teams -- FC Dallas and Nashville SC -- were withdrawn from the tournament because of a high number of positive tests within their locker rooms.
Other leagues are also preparing to return to the season, which means massive numbers of test kits.
The NBA is already preparing to resume play on July 30 with every game played in Orlando. The NHL gets back on the ice on Aug. 1 in Toronto and Edmonton.
MLB begins its shortened 60-game season on July 23, but games will be played in all of the Major League cities, not one or two locations. USA Today estimates that between the major league sports leagues now playing, they are using 19,000 test kits per week. That’s a relative drop in the bucket compared to the more than 600,000 kits that are being used each week across the country.
There is a question of laboratory resources to produce results from the tests. Baseball is using a private lab in Utah, although that lab does subcontract some tests out. Other large national labs can take between three and seven days to return results, sometimes longer. A one-week delay in test results is almost useless for teams playing multiple games in a week.
And what happens when football season begins?
Right now, NFL owners want players and staff to be tested twice a week. The players are pushing for more frequent testing, which would likely find more positive cases but would also demand many more test kits.
If the NFL tested daily, the league would use more than 15,000 tests per week for its players alone.
But, it’s not just the 32 NFL teams to consider. There are also college football teams -- 130 in FBS and hundreds more at lower levels -- all with up to 100 players on the roster, and that’s not including coaching and support staffs.
Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at New York University and Bellevue Hospital, told USA Today: “That’s been a big concern for me, as I’ve been seeing different leagues and their plans for reopening. We’re testing a lot (in New York), but other parts of the country don’t have that same capacity. And if you have every single player on a team wanting to be tested -- even if it’s once a week or twice a week -- that’s just a huge strain on the system.”
So where does this leave us? Sports leagues are likely to continue testing and unless a league stops their season again because of COVID-19, the supply of test kits and laboratory time will continue to be stressed by sports’ return. That is unless something changes in the coronavirus pandemic. And if there is one thing that we’ve learned in the pandemic, it’s that things don’t tend to stay the same for long.