Florida reported 2,610 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database, only a slight drop from the state’s one-day record of 2,783. That was set on Tuesday.
Florida was one of the first states to reopen in the midst of the global pandemic. Now, it is one of nearly two dozen states where virus cases are increasing.
In the midst of all this, the N.B.A. will attempt to restart its season with a single-site competition at Walt Disney World.
The season’s success, or failure, will affect the league and its players for years to come. It also could influence how several other prominent American sports navigate their own comebacks.
The N.B.A. won’t be alone in Florida, of course. Major League Soccer will resume its own season at Walt Disney World on July 8, even before the basketball players arrive. Unlike the N.B.A., which plans to complete its regular season and then hold an abbreviated playoffs all on one campus, M.L.S. hopes to return to its own cities in the fall to finish its regular season.
Other leagues are attempting a similar feat: The National Women’s Soccer League will hold its entire season as a monthlong tournament in Utah beginning June 27, and the W.N.B.A. announced this week that its comeback would begin around the same time as the N.B.A., but at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
The stakes for every league are high: Aside from obvious health concerns for players, coaches and team employees, the leagues all are aware that if they shut down again because of a substantial outbreak, the immediate financial picture might be catastrophic.
So it makes sense to ask: Is Florida the best place to stage major sports competitions involving hundreds of participants as the number of cases continues to rise?
The contours of all three announced plans involving the state appear to be the same: All league staff, players and other attendees must remain in their respective, so-called bubbles and submit to frequent testing. There will be no fans in the stands.
“It’s not as if the tournament will be open to the public,” M.L.S. Commissioner Don Garber said in announcing his league’s return. “There won’t be any guests in the environment where we are going to be. So it’s something that we are confident we’ll be able to manage.”
Broadly, the M.L.S. and N.B.A. have similar health protocols. M.L.S. has posted its guidelines publicly, and they stipulate that all who are traveling to Orlando for the tournament must first test negative twice, 24 hours apart. On Thursday, Atlanta United of M.L.S. announced that an unidentified player on the team had tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The N.B.A.’s protocol, which is not public but was obtained by The New York Times, says that players must register two negative test results once they arrive.
The W.N.B.A.’s protocols will be similar with the N.B.A.’s, according to a person familiar with the deliberations who was not authorized to speak publicly about them. A statement from the league on Monday said the guidelines were still being developed.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the N.B.A.’s protocols “quite creative” in an interview with Stadium. The league’s plan, which spans 113 pages, is by far the most expansive. It says players should discard decks of cards after using them, avoid doubles Ping-Pong and eat outside as often as possible. While some Disney staff members will not reside in the bubble, they also will be wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.
Dr. Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida, called the N.B.A.’s protocols “extremely thorough.”
“They ran the gamut,” Prins said. Beyond basic questions, like what types of tests would be used and how frequently individuals would be tested, she said, the league has “really thorough protocols for travel, thorough protocols for how things will be maintained on the Disney campus — from where the players will be, what the contact will be with people and the protocols for cleaning the facilities.”
The leagues aren’t the first to attempt a return, or the first to confront health concerns when they did.
In mid-May, Germany’s top soccer league, the Bundesliga, returned to play in stadiums without fans. Leagues in Spain, Italy and England have followed suit. But when Bundesliga teams returned to training last month, the league’s testing of each player yielded more than a dozen positive tests for the coronavirus — yet officials went through with the restart anyway.
England’s Premier League conducted similar rounds of testing as it prepared for its return on Wednesday; in the most recent tests, officials said, the league had one positive test out of 1,541 players and coaches. Germany’s top basketball competition — also called the Bundesliga — returned with a tournament earlier this month. And in the United States, Top Rank, the boxing production company, has begun resuming matches.
But no effort in the United States has been as large as what M.L.S. and professional basketball are trying to accomplish in a single location — and in a state experiencing a surge of virus cases.
An N.B.A. spokesman, Mike Bass, said in a statement that the league was “closely monitoring the data in Florida and Orange County and will continue to work collaboratively with the N.B.P.A, public health officials and medical experts regarding our plans.”
Prins said that what concerned doctors like her was not protocols or plans but what she referred to as the “human element.” Players from both the N.B.A. and M.L.S. are expected not to leave the Walt Disney World area, since doing so would increase exposure of those inside these single-site areas in a state that is already a hot spot. In effect, the leagues will have to trust — and hope — that hundreds of players and staff members will follow the rules.
“The thing is: You have a lot of people still involved,” Prins said. “I know they’re still pared down for what they would normally be.”
Still, she added, “You are relying on every single person to work properly within that protocol.”
In the N.B.A., some players already are grousing about being stuck inside a bubble, possibly for several months. The full return has not been approved yet by the players’ union. Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN on Monday that players who did not want to come would not be considered in breach of contract.
“I can only say that it may not be for everyone,” Silver said. “It will entail enormous sacrifice on behalf of those players and for everyone involved — the coaches, the referees.
“Listen,” he added, “it’s not an ideal situation.”