NBA still doesn't know for sure how Wizards' COVID-19 outbreak started originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
With six confirmed positive tests and four postponed games (so far), the Wizards have endured the worst coronavirus outbreak of the 2020-21 NBA season to this point. But despite an extensive contact tracing process, the root cause still has not been determined.
How it all started, the team and the league do not know with 100% certainty. Contact tracing has its limits, especially when you look back at a series of basketball games and realize all the different ways players interact.
In other instances, players have broken protocol like by going out on the road, which was the case for the Cleveland Indians in Major League Baseball last summer. That does not appear to have happened with the Wizards.
"There's not any one thing you can specifically point to that it was this person that got it from this person," general manager Tommy Sheppard said.
Sheppard went on to explain just how hard it is to track the virus, which travels from carrier to carrier at the molecular level. Even with confirmed cases on the other teams the Wizards played in the weeks leading up to their outbreak, it's not easy to determine the source.
"To this point, none of our staff has tested positive, so we don't think it was interactions in our facility. We think we've done everything the right way in our facility," Sheppard said.
"We have players that are out on the floor unmasked during the games. That's an obvious thing. They have exposure to each other. Sometimes on the bench, players will pull their masks down and talk to each other, things like that. The contact tracing is very necessary, but it's also difficult because it could have been anywhere at any time. The fact it hasn't jumped the wall and it hasn't extended past players kind of makes you, at least common sense-wise, would make you believe it's happening in contact out on the court."
Sheppard said the NBA uses Second Spectrum tracking data in the contact tracing process. The service shows which players guarded each other during games and how often. But for a virus that spreads through the air, it could be transmitted by one player just walking through the same path another player did during a timeout.
The league has essentially found out they can't with all certainty know where some of these outbreaks began.
"To try to say it was at this point or with this person and that's what caused it, I don't think we'll ever be that evolved in this circumstance to figure out where and when exactly," Sheppard said.
"Every place that we play, there was a player the next night that was pulled out. We weren't one of those. After we played them, we kept testing negative, kept testing negative, we kept moving. But the incubation period of this is seven-to-10 days, so it can turn on you in a hurry. I hate to say it, but it was our turn. It hit us all at once."
Sheppard was referring to a streak of games leading up to the Wizards' outbreak where players on teams they had just played entered the league's health and safety protocol. Seth Curry of the Sixers and Jayson Tatum of the Celtics are two players who had confirmed positive tests the following day.
Whether the Wizards got it from them or not, the relative likelihood shows how difficult it can be for a team to stay safe. Even if they follow all the protocols, their next opponent may not have.
"I keep telling our guys, 'Don't be that person, don't be on the wrong side of this. Do all the right things,'" Sheppard said. "We believe we were doing all the right things. It's just unfortunate. This thing is extremely contagious."