Miami Heat awaits word on NBA’s COVID-19 contact-tracing investigation

Anthony Chiang
·5 min read

UPDATE: The Miami Heat is preparing to field a shorthanded roster for the next several days because of COVID-19 issues. Here’s the story with all of the updated details.

The Miami Heat is awaiting word from the NBA on how to proceed after its Sunday night game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden was postponed because of COVID-19 issues.

The Heat stayed in Boston overnight, as the league conducted a contact tracing investigation to determine whether any players would be deemed a close contact to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. Players who are determined to be close contacts are expected to be sidelined for seven days in most cases, but the required quarantine could vary from case to case.

The Heat is scheduled for anther round of COVID-19 testing Monday morning in Boston before it’s determined who can travel.

The results of the contact-tracing investigation and ongoing testing will determine whether the Heat will have enough players cleared to play its next game Tuesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The NBA requires teams to have eight available players to proceed with games.

On Sunday, it was the Heat that didn’t have the required eight available players to proceed with its game against the Celtics. Enough of Miami’s roster would have been forced to miss the game amid the ongoing contact-tracing investigation after guard Avery Bradley (whose test result was not announced, only his status) was ruled out earlier Sunday because of the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

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In a press release to announce the news Sunday, the NBA wrote: “The National Basketball Association game scheduled for tonight between the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics at TD Garden has been postponed in accordance with the league’s Health and Safety Protocols.

“Because of ongoing contact tracing with the Heat, the team does not have the league-required eight available players to proceed with tonight’s game against the Celtics.”

That contact-tracing process is complicated and it wouldn’t have been completed in time for Sunday’s 7 p.m. game, which is why the NBA postponed the contest.

How does the NBA determine who’s a close contact?

The NBA follows CDC guidance, which defines close contacts as any individual who has been within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from two days before illness onset for symptomatic individuals or two days before the positive test was conducted for asymptomatic individuals.

But there are multiple factors that can play a role in determining whether somebody is a close contact and how long a potential quarantine needs to be like the duration of the exposure, how close the interaction was, the location of the interaction, whether the infected person was symptomatic during the interaction and whether masks were worn.

A big part of the investigation is the case interview, which is when the league and a member of the team’s contact-tracing working group interviews the person who tested positive or returned an inconclusive test. This is done to assess the individual’s medical condition and gather information on any prior known exposures to any other individuals such as teammates, coaches, team staff and opposing players.

To help provide supplementary information during the contact-tracing investigation, the NBA recently began requiring players, coaches and some team staff to wear Kinexon SafeZone contact sensor devices during all team-organized activities outside of games, including practices. The sensor activates when coming within six feet to another person wearing one, and records the distance and duration of in-person interactions.

The NBA is also using Second Spectrum cameras in arenas to track interactions during the course of a game, but the early results indicate that players do not get anywhere close to reaching the 15-minute threshold of cumulative close contact during a game. But those few minutes of close contact on the court could be added to off-court interactions that end up totaling to 15 or more minutes in a 24-hour period.

Ultimately, doctors and epidemiologists in consultation with the NBA determine who’s a close contact and how long they must quarantine for based on the information provided by the investigation.

The Heat has three games scheduled this week: Tuesday at 76ers, Thursday at 76ers and Saturday vs. Detroit Pistons. Miami is 4-4 this season after Saturday’s road win over the Washington Wizards.

The Heat isn’t the only team dealing with COVID-19 issues at the moment.

The Celtics actually ruled out nine players for Sunday’s game before it was postponed, which means they were on track to have the NBA minimum of eight available players against the Heat. Seven of those players would have been unavailable because of the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

The 76ers are currently without guard Seth Curry, who reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Philadelphia had to play Saturday’s game against the Denver Nuggets with only eight active players in part because Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Vincent Poirier were unavailable reportedly because of contact tracing.

Also, the Dallas Mavericks had to shut down their practice facility on Sunday after forward Maxi Kleber tested positive for COVID-19, the team’s second positive test in three days, according to ESPN.

As a result, the NBA was forced to postpone games scheduled for Monday night between the New Orleans Pelicans and Mavericks at American Airlines Center and Tuesday night between the Celtics and Chicago Bulls at United Center because of health and safety protocols. Four NBA games have now been postponed this season because of COVID-19 issues, including the three that have been postponed since Sunday.

The NBA announced that it will meet with the National Basketball Players Association on Monday about modifying the league’s Health and Safety Protocols.

“We anticipated that there would be game postponements this season and planned the schedule accordingly,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement distributed to various outlets on Sunday. “There are no plans to pause the season, and we will continue to be guided by our medical experts and health and safety protocols.”