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Covid-19: We can’t go back to normal yet!


As omicron cases rise rapidly, there are urgent questions about how aggressively we should respond. At one extreme are reactions like that of the Netherlands, which has moved into full lockdown mode to blunt the variant’s spread. Another possibility, so far the default in many parts of the US, is simply to not do very much, whether out of pandemic fatigue or uncertainty over the best approach.
But the sudden surge in cases has given fresh impetus to those who believe the time has come to normalise Covid, treating it much as we would colds and the flu, and simply proceed with life. Proponents of this approach tend to believe that omicron cases are milder, a possible but not confirmed scenario.
To illustrate the challenges, let’s consider the NBA, one of the boldest and most innovative actors during the Covid era. The league shocked America when it called a halt to the season on March 11, 2020, well ahead of the curve. That summer, the NBA staged playoffs in the bubble, using innovative Covid testing to keep participants safe. It wasn’t obvious in advance that this was going to work, but the league pulled it off. It can’t be said the NBA has no guts in matters Covid.
Yet if the NBA were to make a similarly bold move now and announce it would stop testing players and no longer sit out the ones with asymptomatic Covid infections, the situation quickly would prove untenable. That’s because the NBA, like most large organisations, is too intertwined with other institutions that would object.
For instance, television advertisers might worry their products were advertised during what many would see as a “Covid-irresponsible” event. Cities also are partners of NBA teams, and some might refuse to go along with this new arrangement, especially in states with multiple teams, such as California and New York, that have implemented aggressive policies to blunt Covid. At the very least, it would be difficult for the league to commit to a predictable schedule.
Public skepticism of a no-testing policy also would be hard to handle. Even if all the players remain healthy, coaches, aides and game referees usually are older, sometimes much older (Gregg Popovich, who coaches the San Antonio Spurs, is 72), and they would be more vulnerable.
The players also would come in contact with older friends, relatives and business associates. There would be stories of those contacts catching Covid, and in some cases becoming sick. Perhaps the players weren’t at fault for transmitting the virus, but no one would know for sure. A pall of suspicion and bad publicity would fall upon the NBA.
Possible restrictions don’t seem to be buying much in terms of sustainable benefits, and life, after all, must go on. There is simply no way to quickly coordinate the NBA and its affiliates on a new Covid stance.


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