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Why you shouldn't blame NBA players for getting coronavirus tests so quickly – For The Win

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The Brooklyn Nets announced late Tuesday afternoon that four of their players, including Kevin Durant, had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. In a statement, the team said one player was exhibiting symptoms while three others were asymptomatic.

One week ago, the NBA quickly shut down their season after the Utah Jazz’s  Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus, confirming their fears that the disease could potentially spread through the league.  After Gobert’s positive test, which happened while the team was in Oklahoma City waiting to play the Thunder, the entire Jazz team plus others –58 in total–were also tested for the virus.

As the nation faces a shortage of coronavirus test kits, many people keep wondering, why does the NBA have access to quick and easy testing while others, many who are showing symptoms, have been forced to wait their turn?

The answer is as simple as it is complicated: systemic privilege but also institutional  incompetence.

USA TODAY’s Jeff Zillgitt, reports that the Jazz were able to get 58 test kits not because of their own doing, but because the Oklahoma Department of Health deemed them medically necessary as they’d had direct contact with an infected player.  That decision rested on local health officials but the Nets had no contact with the Jazz, and thus their testing wasn’t done by health officials but through a private lab, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Oklahoma Thunder also tested their players, but secured the tests from “outside sources” so as not to deplete the state’s already meager supply.

As USA TODAY also reported, the NBA mandated that teams set up relationships with labs and facilities that could specifically prepare for coronavirus testing.  Determined to take care of their very valuable assets, the NBA used all their wealth, power and visibility to access much needed resources in a time of scarcity.

As frustrating as it is that money and privilege speeds people to the front of the line, it’s also not a huge surprise.  Our health care system is irrevocably broken, and access to care has always been unequal. The system is built for profit, not for the public good. In the face of a global pandemic, it’s no different.

While it’s tempting to just blame the NBA for using its privilege to test their players, the larger question is why there’s a scarcity of tests in the first place. The answer for that is layered and enraging; a series of massive missteps that put many more Americans at risk.

If you want, you could lay this at the feet of the President, who didn’t want widespread testing because of a fear that an increased number of COVID-19 cases would hurt his re-election chances.  There’s also the fact that the administration turned down tests provided by the World Health Organization and asked the CDC to create their own.  Those tests, once designed, actually proved to be faulty, pushing the US even further behind in testing. Or this case, of a doctor in Seattle designing his own test but not being able to get it approved due to numbingly stupid bureaucracy.  Or how Trump’s trade war with China has put the supply chains necessary for testing at risk.

It is, in short, a colossal and infuriating mess that has put countless lives at risk.  America bungled this thing badly, and as good as it feels to slam the NBA for testing their players out of turn, they’re not the right target right now.

The real problem is a distressing lack of standard testing across America, not that the NBA did what they could to take care of their own. Times are tough and when resources get scarce, the natural reaction is to look for people to blame. If you want to turn your anger somewhere, turn towards the institutions that failed you. Not towards a handful of basketball players trying to stay healthy.

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