The "Bubble": What Can Be Learned from the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s 2019-20 Season Restart in Orlando during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Christina D. Mack, Michael H. Merson, Leroy Sims, Lisa L. Maragakis, Rachel Davis, Caroline G. Tai, Peter Meisel, Yonatan H. Grad, David D. Ho, Deverick J. Anderson, Chris Lemay, John Difiori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. To safely complete the 2019-20 season, the NBA created a closed campus in Orlando, Florida, known as the NBA "Bubble."More than 5000 individuals lived, worked, and played basketball at a time of high local prevalence of SARS-CoV-2. Methods: Stringent protocols governed campus life to protect NBA and support personnel from contracting COVID-19. Participants quarantined before departure and upon arrival. Medical and social protocols required that participants remain on campus, test regularly, physically distance, mask, use hand hygiene, and more. Cleaning, disinfection, and air filtration was enhanced. Campus residents were screened daily and confirmed cases of COVID-19 were investigated. Results: In the Bubble population, 148 043 COVID-19 reverse transcriptase PCR (RT-PCR) tests were performed across approximately 5000 individuals; Orlando had a 4% to 15% test positivity rate in this timeframe. There were 44 COVID-19 cases diagnosed either among persons during arrival quarantine or in non-team personnel while working on campus after testing but before receipt of a positive result. No cases of COVID-19 were identified among NBA players or NBA team staff living in the Bubble once cleared from quarantine. Conclusions: Drivers of success included the requirement for players and team staff to reside and remain on campus, well-trained compliance monitors, unified communication, layers of protection between teams and the outside, activation of high-quality laboratory diagnostics, and available mental health services. An emphasis on data management, evidence-based decision-making, and the willingness to evolve protocols were instrumental to successful operations. These lessons hold broad applicability for future pandemic preparedness efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1017-1027
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Applied Laboratory Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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