Athletes Before America

by Daniel Cudkowicz

Are athletes without symptoms being tested before the general public?

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Marcus Smart, one of the many asymptomatic athletes tested.

As COVID-19 continues to pervade the world, the public learns of the true shortages of masks, hospital beds, and tests. If someone in Massachusetts wants to get prioritized for COVID-19 testing, they must be a healthcare worker, in a shelter of some kind, or hospitalized. Even with these baselines in place, there are simply not enough tests for everyone. The United States is only testing 12,000 people a day while other smaller countries that are effectively flattening their curve have tested 15,000 people a day. Given these numbers, the testing of athletes with no symptoms should not take place for both moral and legal reasons when the general population does not have access to reliable testing.

Marcus Smart, a player on the Boston Celtics who was asymptomatic, was tested on March 14, and his results came back positive on March 19. Smart took to Twitter to share this news and reminded the country to practice social distancing. Although a good message, Smart did not qualify to be tested based on the MA guidelines. The guidelines clearly stated that individuals without symptoms should not be tested at this time, yet Smart was given a test most likely due to his participation in the Celtics game against the Jazz and Rudy Gobert, who tested positive. While Smart may have come into contact with the virus, if he is not exhibiting symptoms, there is no need to test him, as he should be self-quarantining anyways.

Four players on the Brooklyn Nets have also tested positive for COVID-19. In New York, the epicenter of the virus for America, testing rules are even stricter than Massachusetts. New York has chosen to not test any civilian who does not require immediate hospitalization in an attempt to use the few tests they have to help those who are in danger. Just like Smart, none of the four players showed signs of the virus or required hospitalization and were still tested by the state, most likely due to their celebrity status.

There are very mixed opinions on this issue. On one hand, athletes are not essential workers and do not deserve a test when healthcare professionals cannot receive the tests they need. However, people rally around professional sports athletes. They have a large following and can be pivotal in large public issues like the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, since testing positive, Smart has used his Twitter to encourage people to stay home and stop the spread of the virus. He has also volunteered to donate his blood, which now contains antibodies, for research on how to create a vaccine for the virus.

As Massachusetts approaches its supposed peak date of April 16 according to Massachusetts General Hospital, it no longer makes sense to test people without symptoms, even those who are famous. Going forward, athletes should only be tested if they are experiencing symptoms.