Infectious disease expert: COVID-19 testing for sports unnecessarily taxes the system

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Getting somewhat lost in all the talk about things like how much money the owners are going to play the players or whether or not there will be a DH in all of the games of a truncated season is the medical reality of playing a baseball season at all right now.

Yesterday Nationals closer Sean Doolittle talked about that from a player perspective. About the health risks, short term and long term, of playing during the pandemic. For the players and for managers, coaches, team staff, and everyone they come into contact with. Money may be a deal-breaker, but it’s not at all clear yet that the MLB proposal to restart the season is satisfactory with respect the health precautions.

But even if the proposal seems acceptable to the league and to players, it may not be feasible — or ethical — from a medical perspective. To see how this can be, check out this thread from TSN’s Rick Westhead, who interviewed Dr. Michael Silverman, a London, Ontario, infectious disease specialist.

The premise of the interview is the idea that sports leagues and team ownership groups will privately purchase the many, many COVID-19 tests that would be needed to safely resume pro sports. Westhead and Silverman specifically cite Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment (MLSE) — which owns the Leafs, the Raptors, CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, MLS’s Toronto FC, and several minor league franchises in various sports — which has promised to purchase its own tests.

Except they can’t. Not without depriving hospitals or nursing homes of COVID-19 tests. And not without burning through scarce personal protective equipment on necessary medical procedures, such as cancer surgeries, that you may not have had to use if you knew for sure the patient was negative for the virus:

All of the additional testing, Silverman notes, means that turnaround on processing takes longer and the longer it takes to get test results back the more pointless the testing is because you can’t effectively isolate and quarantine if you don’t know if someone has the virus. The upshot of it all, throwing in thousands upon thousands of COVID-19 tests for professional sports would unnecessarily tax an already overwhelmed testing effort.

The question of whether we can bring back professional sports in this environment is an open one. The question of whether we should even try is probably a more important one.