A very interesting report from the Los Angeles Times has linked the spread of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19 among North American professional athletes back to one major sports complex, the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. Writer Nathan Fenno of the Times has tracked at least half the cases of infected athletes in North America back to the Staples Center, a disturbing find when you consider just how many precautions the Staples Center itself was taking in the days leading up to the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League suspending their respective seasons.
From Fenno's report:
At least eight athletes who played in those games have been diagnosed with COVID-19: four Brooklyn Nets, including sidelined star Kevin Durant, two Lakers who haven’t been identified and two members of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. Identifying the source and site of the infection is impossible, but the Lakers’ schedule during that final week put them within four degrees of separation of every NBA team. The crossover between leagues — 11 arenas are home to both NBA and NHL teams — the densely loaded schedules, the proximity to closely packed stands, combined with an easily spread virus, created a new label for athletes: super spreaders.
Amid the tumult of sports at every level shutting down, followed by much of the country, Staples Center is a common denominator among eight of the 16 cases of COVID-19 announced by NBA and NHL teams.
Although you could now argue in hindsight that the Staples Center, the NBA, or the NHL should have done more to protect its fans and athletes from the spread of the virus you would be hard pressed to argue they had been negligent. The Staples Center alone installed an additional 120 hand-sanitizing stations in the days leading up to the seasons being cancelled and added 85 additional members to its staff specifically for post game cleaning. This meant that areas frequently touched by fans, players, and food service staff were routinely cleaned by the extra staff brought on board. Obviously you can make the case that it was not enough given what we know now, but these actions were taken before many believed this to be as serious a pandemic as we now know it to be.
Without knowing the identity of many of the players diagnosed it makes it more difficult to track their movements in the days leading up to, or following, their time at the Staples Center. We do know that during a game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers that "several" members of the Ottawa Senators roster were on hand and just 3 days later the World Health Organization had declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
It may still be some time before we know how so many athletes were infected with this disease, a situation that effectively made them super spreaders due to their regular travel schedules and interaction with fans, but it does appear that the lines being drawn here and connecting players to the Staples Center have some validity to them.