The NBA said Wednesday that public health concerns drove decisions by multiple teams to administer coronavirus tests to asymptomatic players, a trend which has drawn increasing criticism in recent days due to the scarcity of testing kits.
“Public health authorities and team doctors have been concerned that, given NBA players’ direct contact with each other and close interactions with the general public, in addition to their frequent travel, they could accelerate the spread of the virus,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told ESPN. “Following two players testing positive last week, others were tested and five additional players tested positive.”
A total of seven NBA players on three teams have tested positive for coronavirus since last week. The number rose by four on Wednesday. The Brooklyn Nets have four players that tested positive for the virus.
Officials in Oklahoma administered coronavirus test kits to 58 Jazz employees last week as a public health precaution. The Nets paid an as-yet unknown private company out of pocket for their coronavirus tests.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was critical of the Nets’ decision on Thursday.
"We wish them a speedy recovery,” de Blasio wrote on Twitter. “But, with all due respect, an entire NBA team should NOT get tested for COVID-19 while there are critically ill patients waiting to be tested," he said referring to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “Tests should not be for the wealthy, but for the sick."
Health officials in cities and states throughout the country have reported a shortage of coronavirus testing kits as the outbreak worsened in recent days. A House coronavirus relief bill includes a provision to fund free testing for all Americans.
In the U.S. alone, authorities have reported more than 7,300 individual confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 115 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University database. The worldwide case count has surpassed 212,000.
“Hopefully, by these players choosing to make their test results public, they have drawn attention to the critical need for young people to follow CDC recommendations in order to protect others, particularly those with underlying health conditions and the elderly,” the NBA spokesman added.
President Trump was asked to respond to reports of asymptomatic professional athletes getting coronavirus tests despite their scarcity during a White House briefing on Thursday. The president said that wealthy individuals should not be given preferential treatment.
"No, I wouldn't say so, but perhaps that’s been the story of life," he said. "That does happen on occasion. I’ve noticed where some people have been tested fairly quickly."