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.

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.