Philippine basketball

Clark bubble safety: Is it enough?

Renee Ticzon

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Clark bubble safety: Is it enough?

Photo by PBA Images

Rappler speaks to a medical expert, who analyzes the effectiveness of the PBA bubble safety protocols

Patterned after the successful NBA restart, the PBA has created its own bubble to bring basketball back.

The PBA has enforced several strict protocols for the safety and containment of the virus. Most of these protocols come from the NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida, along with several additions.

The league has decided to hold all players, coaches and staff in the Quest Hotel in Mimosa, while conducting practice sessions and games at the Angeles University Foundation in Angeles, Pampanga.

Netizens were quick to point out that there were several questionable rules and regulations among the proposed and implemented protocols set by the PBA.

To understand the rationale of the safety measures, Dr Ayes Sanchez, a company physician and frontliner, tackles the many reasons behind these.

All players on the bench are required to wear face masks

This has been the standard protocol for all individuals leaving their residence since the start of the community quarantine in March 2020.

This may have been an unusual rule put up by the PBA, as compared to the NBA where players and coaches who sit on the front row of the bench are not required to wear a mask during games.

But for Dr Sanchez, the rule serves not only as compliance but also as added protection for the players and everyone on court.

“They’re utilizing the use of face masks as protection or a security blanket,” she said, noting there may be unknown asymptomatic carriers or other predisposed illnesses.

However, she does warn that if the protocol is to be implemented strictly, there has to be a certain level of sanitation before, during and after the games.

“What’s important is that if they’re really going to impose wearing the face mask all the time, everybody should have their own pouches or containers,” she suggested.

She emphasized the importance of labelling masks and having a UV sterilizing boxes for each team to ensure the sanitation of the masks being worn during the games.

Family members of players are not allowed to enter the bubble at any point of the season

Unlike the NBA that allowed the entry of family members during the playoffs until the finals, the PBA has decided to prohibit the entrance of any non-personnel of the PBA.

This is to take into consideration the regulation of people who will come in contact with the players and coaches.

“Probably the biggest difference between the NBA [and the PBA] is that they have the facilities where they can really contain the people going inside the bubble,” said Sanchez.

Since members of the NBA were held in different locations instead of together in one hotel, the league was able to spare extra rooms to hold the family members of players, unlike the current situation in the PBA.

In the PBA, the standards for sanitizing and containment is not as extensive as the NBA, which is why the league would rather take no chances and prioritize the safety of all.

Giving high fives or other forms of celebration during games are discouraged

Despite being held in the same location, the PBA has stated that they are discouraging any unnecessary physical contact between players. This is also a new protocol that was not observed in the NBA.

This rule, though, was part of the FIBA restart guidelines.

For Sanchez, the people involved in these forms of celebrations must be taken into consideration.

Siguro kung ibang tao joining in their celebrations [that’s what should be avoided],” she said.

(Maybe if there were other people not from the team joining the celebrations, that’s what should be avoided.)

Meaning, limiting celebrations may be applied to the other non-playing staff and personnel who are not required to be in close contact with the players.

Again, this provision was included in order to maximize the physical distancing protocols set by the Philippine government.

However, Sanchez also suggests there must be tolerance to this protocol as these instances cannot be avoided in the duration of the conference.

“Every time you have physical contact with someone, just do the usual safety measures like sanitizing your hands,” added Sanchez.

No individual is allowed to return after leaving the bubble

The PBA has stated there will be a strict no reentry policy. Those who will leave the Clark bubble are no longer allowed to enter even if their reasons are valid and excused.

This policy, according to Sanchez, is potentially damaging especially to the players and coaches.

The specific protocol is currently not applied in any other workplace besides the PBA. In any other occupation, the no reentry policy can act as a ground for illegal dismissal, something the PBA must reevaluate.

“In any workplace right now, it’s very important that you maintain your workforce – you keep it going,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez believes that excused members of the teams must be allowed reentry especially if that person had to attend to an emergency situation.

They should not be automatically disqualified from continuing the conference, especially if they do not exhibit any symptoms of the virus.

“For me, they should just follow the normal protocols [before reentering the bubble]… In the medical community, we still have to base it on symptoms,” explained Sanchez.

The current CDC guidelines state that a person’s isolation period begins at the day they confirmed to be positive for COVID. They require a 10-day isolation period before a patient is deemed no longer infectious and can already discontinue their quarantine.

Therefore, once a member of the PBA leaves the bubble and returns with no symptoms and is quarantined for the necessary period, then they must be allowed reentry during the season.

RT-PCR/swab test done every two weeks

The PBA has agreed to let all league members undergo a routine RT-PCR testing – the most sensitive and accurate test available for COVID-19.

For Sanchez, the timing of the testing is necessary in order to ensure containment of the virus.

“It should be done in the correct time,” she stated.

She also suggested that the PBA may want to consider the available antigen test which has a sensitivity ranging from 84.0%-97.6%.

Once the interim testing has displayed a COVID positive result, then they must undergo the gold standard swab test, in order to confirm the result of the initial test.

Not only will it be more cost effective for the league, but it will also provide faster results as it takes a mere 30 minutes to get the results of the antigen test.

Doctors will check on players and coaches everyday for symptoms

Like the NBA and most companies around the world, this standard protocol has been deemed necessary across all industries.

Each team must have safety officers and specific medical personnel to handle their team while in the Clark bubble to effectively ensure that all players and coaches are safe to work.

These physicians must also be in charge of educating, giving the latest COVID-19 updates and providing testing information to the team and other personnel. They must take into consideration the ideal time to be tested in order to properly manage the team’s health and safety.

While the PBA guidelines may have been seen as absurd and punishing to some, the extreme strictness comes within reason. These tighter protocols have been set in place in order to protect the players and all members of the PBA within the bubble.

Since the PBA does not possess equipment that will provide the required ventilation and filtration processes that can be found in most hospitals, they added more rules and regulation to compensate and hopefully help manage the new normal in sports. –

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