Due to the league's high vaccine rate, the NBA will use designated team officials (mostly members of the medical staff) to detect COVID-19 using small, molecular-based devices at home that can provide results within 20 minutes.
Although the NBA will continue to rely on laboratory-based testing in some cases, it won't in the same capacity last season when hundreds of outside experts -- some embedded with teams -- collected and transported samples daily to labs around the country.
These FDA-approved molecular diagnostic devices were first used by the league in 2020 as a supplement to COVID-19 tests. The devices were used by five NBA teams as part of a pilot program during the 2020-21 season.
The devices, which were developed by Cue, a San Diego-based firm, will be the league standard for 2021-22. Each team can have as many as 24. Cue will also supply the devices to the league referees. The referee operations team of the NBA will oversee the testing.
Ayub Khatak, Cue CEO and cofounder, said that the devices were used by more than 2,000 schools in 16 states and many other institutions. The devices are accurate to 97.8% according to a Mayo Clinic study.
Khattak stated to ESPN that the test was very specific. False positives can happen in any situation. This is another advantage of being able get results faster. It's not necessary to dwell on false positives for more than two days before you see your next result.
The NBA teams were instructed to collaborate with local labs for any additional testing that might be required, such as confirmation of a positive test on one the rapid-response device.
The NBA's safety and health protocols state that those not vaccinated will be tested every day and possibly twice on specific days. A spokesperson for the league stated that 96% of players and almost all team staff are required to be vaccinated.
The testing frequency for vaccinated staff and players is not yet known. However, the NBA will work with teams to determine testing requirements if they wish to test every staff member and player every day.
Each team has a designated testing officers who are responsible for overseeing and coordinating the testing. These officers will be largely from the team's athletic training or medical staff. Test results go into a secure, cloud-based dashboard. The information will be available to each team's designated health care staff, as well as the league's players health group.
An Eastern Conference general manager stated that he really enjoys the device. It's very handy.
One general manager from the Western Conference who is familiar with the devices said, "I think it will be really big." It definitely reduces the need for [other specialists] around."
The bulk of the NBA's COVID-19 testing was performed by BioReference Laboratories experts during the Orlando bubble.
BioReference employed about 400 people in 2020-21 to focus on the NBA. This included about 10 staff who were on-site with each team. One of these staff members was the point runner, and often traveled to every home or road game.
BioReference staff members were so integrated into the teams that they were included on the annual team photos.