Even though the WNBA will make its return two months after originally planned in the end of the July, the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a big topic of discussion for the league and its players and coaches as the season opener approaches.
About a week ago, the WNBA announced its plan to start the 2020 WNBA season in July at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., hosting all 12 teams and their personnel in one central location to conduct a 22-game regular season followed be a traditional playoff format.
As players decide by June 25 whether or not they will take part in the upcoming season amid COVID-19 concerns and also social justice concerns throughout the country, the increase of health concerns specifically within the state of Florida could persuade some players to take a long hard look at if they will play during the year or not.
Over the past few days and especially over the weekend, Florida had a few days of record-high reported positive coronavirus cases, highlighting a recent surge of new cases throughout a state that has suddenly become a hotbed for positive cases of the virus.
On Friday, Florida recorded a then-record of 3,822 new cases of COVID-19, followed up by the current single-day record of 4,049 cases on Saturday, 3,494 on Sunday and 2,926 on Monday. As of Tuesday, the state has had a total of over 100,000 confirmed cases and nearly 3,200 deaths.
Over the weekend, ESPN reported that the spike in positive cases in Florida as it starts to open things back up within the state has “raised concern in many corners of the NBA,” which is planning to restart its 2019-20 season in late July although it will take place about 100 miles away from IMG Academy at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
Given how close the NBA and WNBA have been working in coming up with different plans on protocols to get back onto the basketball court yet this summer in a safe manner, you would imagine the same level of concern with COVID-19 cases in Florida would be present within WNBA circles as well.
“I can’t tell you how many conversations we’ve had around player safety first. Every decision that is being made is about safety of the integrity of the clean site,” Minnesota Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve said in a Zoom call with local media last week. “I know for Cathy Engelbert, our commissioner, that is a paramount importance. There’s no way we want to do this unless we can put our very best foot forward. There’s a lot of information around testing.”
When it comes to the location of both the WNBA and the NBA “bubble” locations, both are still relatively far enough away from the epicenter of the spike in COVID-19 cases within the state of Florida, but that doesn’t rule out the fact that the virus could easily spread towards those communities.
The southern portion of Florida is where the more recent spike in positive cases has mainly taken place, specifically around the Miami area. Both IMG Academy in Bradenton, where the WNBA will play, and Walt Disney World in Orlando, where the NBA will play, are located more towards the central portion of the state.
The Orlando area hasn’t been hit nearly as hard by recent COVID-19 cases, which is good news for the NBA. Orlando lies within Orange County, which has had nearly 5,000 confirmed cases and almost 50 deaths coming into Tuesday.
In Bradenton, however, that location is more in the west-central portion of Florida and is a bit closer to the outbreak in cases in the state. IMG Academy and the city of Bradenton lies within Manatee County, which has seen nearly 2,000 COVID-19 cases and over 125 deaths going into Tuesday.
With the recent cases popping up in Florida, you have to imagine the WNBA is also concerned and is monitoring the outbreak in the state, much the NBA is currently.
The WNBA has remained consistent on saying it will continue to work with medical specialists, public health experts and government officials on guidelines for proper protocols to be put in place at IMG Academy. Reeve and the Lynx, much like the rest of the teams in the league, will have to work follow those guidelines as much as possible once they make the move to Bradenton to ensure the outbreak doesn’t reach them as well.
“In order for this to be a success and for this to be as safe as possible, we have to be active participants in that. We cannot go down there and be dismissive or be lax and violate the protocols,” Reeve said. “That’s when you let your guard down when you think you’re in this safe bubble that something could happen. The only thing I can say is we won’t be out and about. A lot of us have been doing the quarantining with minimal activity. We have a quarantine period and then we are going to have numerous protocols in place.
“Any violation, I would encourage Cathy Engelbert to have a zero-tolerance policy. Any violations mean you’re out of the bubble. That’s the only way to ensure our best chance at providing the most safety for everyone that’s going to be there.”
Although there is excitement around the return of basketball set to begin in July, the situation currently unfolding in Florida surrounding COVID-19 cases and the recent spike in positive cases will be worth monitoring closely in the coming weeks. And you can bet the WNBA, its players and team personnel will also be watching it as closely as anyone.