The Golden State Warriors have put forward an ambitious plan to state and local authorities to reopen the Chase Center in San Francisco with 50% capacity for the upcoming NBA season. Owner Joe Lacob believes this can be the model for all sports franchise and entertainment venues that can be safely brought back fans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Lacob, the Warriors are ready to spend more than $ 30 million to provide every Warriors fan, employee and player with the most accurate form of COVID-19 testing for every home game or every day they come to the Chase Center, to test.
“Not only do I want to do this and show the world how we can do it now, I am willing to spend the money on it,” said Lacob, who holds a master’s degree in public health from UCLA and is making his fortune as Venture Capitalists in Biotechnology. “This is a serious, serious problem. It can’t last for years … because if it lasted for several years, the NBA wouldn’t be anymore.
“You can’t keep this league without fans. You can do it for a year. We’ll all get by for a year. But let’s assume we’re in that situation next year. Now we’re talking about serious, serious financial damage to many People. “
Lacob said he and a team of Warriors staff have been working uninterruptedly on what is known internally as “Operation DubNation” since the NBA closed on March 11.
It depends on the use of rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, or equivalent amplification technologies, which can detect traces of the virus’ genetic material in nasal or throat swabs within 15 minutes, and which are far more accurate than rapid antigenic tests which what is looked for is a protein that is present on the surface of the spilled virus.
The NBA used the more accurate PCR testing when they finished their season in Orlando, Florida. However, the results came back mostly overnight when the samples were tested in a nearby laboratory. Major League Baseball also used PCR testing, but the results often took more than 24 hours because the samples were sent to a laboratory in Utah. This added to the unfortunate situation in Game 6 of the World Series, where Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was pulled out of the game in the eighth inning after his test results came back positive.
Rapid PCR testing or equivalents have only become available in the past few months, with Hollywood studios being among the first to benefit when the industry resumes production. The NBA used them this summer and fall as well, testing thousands of samples, which helped the warriors work out their plans.
Three companies – Mesa Biotech, Visby and CUEHealth – have received FDA approval and are increasing production volumes. According to Lacob, this is the critical breakthrough that will allow the Warriors to achieve the required test volume.
These tests are far more expensive than rapid antigen tests and far less readily available, which is why the New York Times dubbed them “the new velvet rope” when it comes to parties, entertainment, or gatherings for the well-heeled.
However, Lacob believes that the rapid PCR test is imperative because it is close to 99% accurate in detecting the coronavirus in humans, even before they become infectious. Experts believe rapid antigen tests, like those used by the White House, could miss 30-50% of people who have enough viral load to be infectious.
“The White House used less sensitive tests, which means they will have more false negative results,” said Dr. George Rutherford, Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UCSF, who reviewed the warriors’ plans. “The warriors plan to use the most accurate and sensitive tests we have and that makes a big difference. I don’t think anyone else could do more than him. This is as close to getting it as close as possible.” perfect a plan as I’ve seen for anything that opens again. “
The Warriors’ plan also calls for everyone who enters the Chase Center to wear a mask and maintain social distance, as well as a state-of-the-art air filtration system that can use 100% outside air or purge the air of the building to supply and replace it with Need four times in an hour.
In a memo sent to teams on Wednesday, the NBA set guidelines for testing fans within 30 feet of the pitch. Fans would have to undergo and return a negative coronavirus test, which is either a PCR test or equivalent taken no later than two days before the start, or an NBA-approved antigen test or a quick virus amplification test (like PCR, LAMP, or isotherm)) tried the day of the game.
Currently, however, fans can only attend sporting events in certain regions of the country.
California has not admitted fans of any form since the pandemic began, and San Francisco announced this week that it will be withdrawing a number of reopenings, including indoor dining and gym and cinema capacity, with the recent surge in coronavirus cases in the bay area and nationwide. The Los Angeles Lakers announced on Wednesday that the games at the Staples Center would take place without fans until further notice.
Lacob believes his plan will eventually be approved by city and state health officials once he explains and proves the science behind it.
“Let’s prove the concept. Let’s use our money, resources, seven to eight months of labor, and expertise to prove the concept,” said Lacob. “This is what I am trying to get the state, city, and government to entertain.
“This [rapid PCR] Test is orders of magnitude more accurate than that [rapid antigen] Test on the [White House] Rose garden event. This is the best you can do. Many people don’t even know these tests exist, and they increase them.
“By spring, some of these companies will be producing rapid PCR tests in quantities nearly 100,000 a day. But I’m trying to show the world, especially the sports world and California, a way to do it.” A surefire way to get people to an event and be completely safe in this building. The numbers confirm this. “
Team President Rick Welts said that drive to reopen the Chase Center could be more challenging than tackling all of the political hurdles he faced in building it.
“The Chase Center is now closed for more days than it is open,” Welts said. “It’s something I have a hard time thinking about. We never got out of hand with Chase Center because with so many obstacles we were really confident we could overcome them. And there is just so much here.” It’s out of our control and so much less known about what we are trying to solve and such a different level of expertise that it is incredibly difficult to reach consensus about it. “
Welts said the public health officials he dealt with, including Dr. Rutherford, hitherto receptive and interested in learning about the warriors’ plans. On a recent visit to the team’s old training facility in Oakland, Welts said California Governor Gavin Newsom spent about an hour with team officials asking questions about the plan.
“He was very up to date with our plan. He was definitely curious about what we were doing and why we were doing it the way we do it,” Welts said. “The governor had a great experience of what our plan was. But I think for obvious reasons he wants to hear from his health officials before considering the implications.”
ESPN reached out to Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary for health and personal services, to whom the Warriors presented their plan, and Dr. Tomas Aragon, the San Francisco Health Officer. Neither returned emails asking for a comment on the plan.
The San Francisco Department of Health made a statement to ESPN: “We have received the Warriors proposal and are currently reviewing it in the context of the current surge in COVID-19 cases in San Francisco, the Bay Area and the US state.”
However, Rick Klausner, a member of the Rockefeller Foundation’s task force that has advised the National Governors Association and cities like Los Angeles, Detroit and New Orleans on their testing strategies during the pandemic, said he had reviewed the Warriors’ plans and his only problem is the logistics of testing more than 10,000 fans and employees per game evening.
“The idea is great,” said Klausner. “I think the idea is sure, doable. It’s difficult to pull off the logistics, but if Joe is able to work out the logistics and do it right … he has to document everything because this is made available to everyone We need successful models, whether it’s opening schools or opening up the entertainment industry and so on.
“I think it’s great that Joe is trying this. Technically, scientifically and medically, I feel comfortable if I can do it, with quick PCR tests, masks, using the reduced density and mass, personally I think that is safe. “
Klausner suggested that it might be better to try the plan with 1,000 or 2,000 fans first to work out the logistics. Otherwise, he said it would be of great public health benefit to have so many people tested and data available to the scientific community.
The Warriors’ original plan was for fans to be tested on location at the Chase Center or drive-up locations in the Bay Area within 48 hours of the game. They partnered with CLEAR, a company that uses corneal scans and fingerprints to identify pre-approved air travelers and link the test results to the ticket holder on a mobile device.
The Warriors failed to play the last 17 games last season, costing Lacob an estimated $ 50 million in revenue. If they played without fans this season, they could lose an estimated $ 400 million in revenue and $ 200 million in profit. It is financially worthwhile to spend $ 30 million on a comprehensive plan to reopen the arena with 50% capacity. But Lacob said that was not the driving force behind the project.
“I want people to understand that these are not the warriors who are just trying to make more money,” he said. “Yes, we are trying to get fans and generate income, but I am trying to set a standard. I am trying to show the world how to do this safely.
“There are many, many thousands and thousands of people in the sports and entertainment businesses, not just basketball, who are unemployed. They cannot put food on the table. They cannot care for their children. Your children are not in School you have to take care of them, what will they do with childcare?
“There are so many reasons why we need to find ways, without the vaccine being a panacea, so that people can get back to work and work in our venues. There are thousands of people, 500 Warrior employees and 1,500 in a game day, but beyond that there are all providers, there are so many people who rely on it and have no jobs.
“Somebody not only has to show the sports world but also show the world how we can resume some parts of normal life while we fight this virus and wait for the vaccine.”
Lacob said he was in close contact with NBA commissioners Adam Silver and Dave Weiss, the league’s senior vice president of player affairs, who leads health and safety efforts.
When asked about the Warriors’ plans, Weiss told ESPN: “Joe Lacob and the Warriors have put an incredible amount of work into developing an innovative testing approach that could help fans participate in Warriors games this season. Safety the NBA player staff and fans are paramount, and we continue to work with the Warriors and other teams on test plans and protocols that contain additional important public health measures. “