NBA Team Health Officials Talk Workload Struggles amid COVID-19 Protocols

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2021

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks during an interview before Game 3 of basketball's NBA Finals, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

NBA team health officials have grown increasingly concerned with their workload during the 2020-21 season, saying COVID-19 protocols have doubled and tripled their workload while taking away from their regular work.

"What scares me—and I know it's happening—is that their normal job of doing health care on players [is impaired]. I've had some trainers tell me, 'I haven't touched a player in two weeks because I've been so busy doing all this logistics and testing and all that.' That's concerning. That's definitely what I don't want to happen," one official told Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

NBA protocols call for every team to have a testing officer, contact tracing officer, facemask enforcement officer, facility hygiene officer, health education and awareness officer and travel safety officer, among other roles. Those tasks have been delegated to officials who were already employed by the organization in most cases, adding significant stress to their already hectic workload.

Some officials told Holmes that the NBA's COVID-19 policies take up the vast majority of their day, all but eliminating individual work with players. There is fear within the NBA that players are not getting the same quality of care because health workers are handling so many tasks.

"It's just frustrating because with all these things they are making us do it's been hard to find time to do our actual jobs. People are going to be exhausted and sick after this year with everything we are forced to do," one basketball operation official said.

While all parties acknowledge that the NBA's protocols are necessary to ensure the health and safety of players and personnel, the workload has been hard to maintain.

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It's unclear if there are any additional resources the league office could provide for teams in ensuring compliance. It's possible that this is a matter of staffing, and teams will have to make additional hires the season goes along to fill compliance positions and allow other employees to fulfill their normal tasks. The NBA has largely placed the onus on teams to figure out staffing and compliance, which may have led to understaffing given that the league handled most of the logistics in the bubble.

"The reality is, these people are really working hard to keep us all safe," a Western Conference general manager said. "And like the front-line health care workers, we probably haven't put enough time and thought into their physical and emotional state."