Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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WNBA used detailed protocol in COVID-19 retests

Sue Bird high fives her Seattle Storm teammates during their game against the Minnesota Lynx Tuesday. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images.
Sue Bird high fives her Seattle Storm teammates during their game against the Minnesota Lynx Tuesday. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images.
Sue Bird high fives her Seattle Storm teammates during their game against the Minnesota Lynx Tuesday. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images.

Three Seattle Storm players whose COVID-19 tests returned inconclusive results over the weekend were cleared to play in the WNBA semifinals Tuesday.

The athletes, who weren’t identified, received two negative tests, each 24 hours apart from the last, to be cleared. One of the three wasn’t activated until three hours before tipoff. The Storm then beat the Minnesota Lynx, 88-86, to take a 1-0 lead in the series after Sunday’s game postponement.

A handful of players across the league had received inconclusive test results throughout the season, which resulted in them isolating for 48 hours and returning to play after passing further tests. Last weekend was the first time multiple players from a team had received such results, and the first time a game had been postponed due to COVID testing. WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said the multiple case count played a role in shutting down the game. But the other factor was the analysis of the testing data.

“We have a variety of tools at our disposal for testing,” she said. “We’ve used the saliva test. We’ve used nasal swabs paired with an oral swab. We’ve used other rapid, non-rapid. We have different technologies running these tests as well.”

Engelbert said each test result is as unique as the person who has been tested.

“Every one of these is different, and everyone you have to evaluate,” she said. “It’s not just an inconclusive. You get data from that inconclusive, like the cycle threshold count, which would be very different for different tests and different individuals. Every one of them is different. Obviously, the main difference here, certainly there were multiple.”

The league was silent Monday, leaving the status of a possible game one the next day unknown. They finally announced that the game would be played at 1 p.m. ET Tuesday. Engelbert said WNBA officials needed to ensure that infections didn’t exist, and that nothing was spreading through the campus in Bradenton, Florida.

“We also needed to do some contact tracing and we needed to ensure the integrity of the bubble,” she said. “I think we made the right decision Sunday, and I think we’re making the right decision tonight.”

With the return of students to IMG Academy and the departure of some teams from the bubble, other remaining squads migrated to a hotel on campus. Engelbert declined to call it a location transfer, saying the building is within the “WNBA-only” area of campus.

“I do not think (the move) had anything to do with (the inconclusive tests),” she said. “We will continue to use our electrostatic sprayers to disinfect everything.”

Engelbert said that for the duration of the playoffs, as has been the case all season, multiple daily tests on all players continues, because each day is brand new.

“We are constantly monitoring (the disease),” she said. “With all the challenges we’ve had this year, this virus is, again, one that every day gets reset to zero. Even as I speak now, we could be getting results back that throw something else out of kilter that has nothing to do with what happened Sunday.”

“We evaluate each (test) based on the facts and circumstances at the time, and (we) consult with experts. I’m so blessed to have experts available to us on the infectious disease and epidemiology side.”

The WNBA semifinals continue tomorrow night.

Lack of answers on postponed WNBA semifinal calls for deductive reasoning

Yesterday morning the WNBA announced the postponement of game one of the playoff semifinal series between the Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx, after more than one Seattle player’s COVID-19 test earlier in the day came back with inconclusive results.

At 7:15 p.m. PT, an email from the league to media members announced two games for Tuesday: game two between the Connecticut Sun and Las Vegas Aces at 4 p.m. PT, and game two of Storm-Lynx at 6 p.m. PT. Both are slated to be on ESPN2, as per the schedule on ESPN’s website (though the second game is suspiciously tabbed for both ESPN2 and ESPN3).

The WNBA has posted no information about the rescheduling of the game, and a representative declined comment today. The Storm did not return a request for comment. What the franchise did do is put out their usual pre-game injury report today: “No injuries to report. Note: additional team COVID-19 test results pending.”

Tomorrow morning will mark 48 hours since the inconclusive test results were assessed. As per the bubble protocol all season long, players who have inconclusive test results and then test negative every time after that within those 48 hours are then activated to play.

Seattle has pre- and post-game news conferences scheduled for tomorrow, indicating that they’re planning on playing, whether or not the athletes with inconclusive tests are cleared or not. That’s bold, even for a team with the depth that the top-seeded Storm has.

Last week the remaining playoff teams moved lodging locations to a hotel near IMG Academy, as students were returning to school there for the fall. Did the movement and/or the new digs cause the problem? The bubble had been functioning flawlessly since July.

More importantly, why wouldn’t the league just come out and say that they’re waiting on updated COVID-19 results and are planning for a game one just in case? Why not be as transparent as commissioner Cathy Engelbert was yesterday in announcing the postponement decision?

This is not the first time the actions of the WNBA have mystified the media and fans. Of course we’re all hoping the much-anticipated Seattle-Minnesota series can begin. But even more importantly, we pray that every player in that new residence area is safe and healthy.

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