The NBA plans to introduce an ambitious aspect of their nationwide contact tracking program by requiring players and many team members to wear sensor devices in all non-game activities organized by the team starting Jan. 7. This is evident from a league memo obtained from ESPN.
Only Level 1 and Level 2 individuals – denominations listed in the league’s health and safety protocols that include players and certain employees such as coaches – are required to wear Kinexon SafeZone contact sensor devices on the team plane, team bus. During training and to and from the arena or its home practice facility in connection with team travel, the memo states.
Not wearing the sensors is subject to discipline, but it is unclear what discipline it could be. Players do not need to wear the sensors during the game or at the team hotel when traveling.
A trial period for the program began on December 23rd and is expected to run on January 7th. This is evident from a separate league memo received from ESPN.
The sensors do not record a GPS location and activate when in close proximity (6 feet) to another person wearing one – a point health officials across the NBA emphasized to address concerns about monitoring individual movements to clear out. The Proximity Alert feature is expected to be disabled on devices that were active in the Orlando, Florida bubble this season.
The memo says the sensors “record the distance and duration of personal interactions” with other people wearing a sensor, which the NBA believes will be helpful in verifying contact tracing in positive coronavirus cases. These reviews also include interviews with players and staff, as well as the potential examination of camera footage in team facilities to better understand who may have been exposed to an infected person.
A health official with direct knowledge of the situation noted that the sensors should go a long way in helping better determine which players or staff should be quarantined should the situation arise.
“We do not want to have to quarantine someone who does not have to,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
These efforts are a collaboration between the NBA, the players union and medical representatives, as well as the officials involved. They believe they should be proactive in identifying situations where staff and players are often interacting in close proximity, which could prove problematic should an infection arise.
“We hope that not only can it be used on cases, but it also proactively tries to reduce contacts before cases even arise,” said David Weiss, senior vice president of the NBA, who has worked with players’ union representatives and medical experts during the pandemic, ESPN said.
The NFL used these sensors during their season, and the NBA did so on a volunteer basis in Orlando, with people usually wearing them on a lanyard. A league memo states that players and certain employees have the option to wear the sensors, including a lanyard, bracelet, or other wearable device. However, players must wear the sensor in a waistband in front of their shorts during training.
Compliance among players is reported to have been strong in Orlando, but holding a season outside of an enclosed setting during the coronavirus pandemic creates numerous opportunities for infection. Because of this, the NBA believes that requiring the sensors is a necessary step, even if it can prove impractical, as some team officials say.
“There will definitely be bumps in the road,” said the health official, who added that the sensors would not be worn in personal time.
A seasoned NBA sports head coach described the program as “ambitious” and highlighted the differences between NFL and NBA teams who use the sensors.
“It’s one thing to do in the NFL, where you basically go to the same place to work every day,” said the senior sports coach on condition of anonymity. “I mean, you theoretically have eight one-game road trips a year [in the NFL]. That is far from what we do. We have to set it up and load things up and distribute them and remember them and distribute them and remember them – and think [of the] Planes, exercises and bus rides and exercises in the morning and games at night and a trip to the airport. It really is something. “
At least two people from each team are assigned to manage the Kinexon SafeZone system. However, the data logged by the sensors is only shared with the teams in the league and individuals and not with other teams, according to a league memo. The information collected on the sensors will be “not identified” after the 2020-21 season and will no longer be individually accessible after the memo.