Teaming Up for a Safe NBA Restart

The AdventHealth practice facility for the Orlando Magic.
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The coronavirus has upended life here in Central Florida, across the country, and around the world. People everywhere are struggling to cope and create new daily routines to stay safe during this pandemic. Routines are important; they give us a sense of normalcy and help us find balance in our lives.

Sports are a big part of that normalcy and create a much-needed escape. That’s why AdventHealth teamed up with the Orlando Magic and the rest of the NBA to get professional basketball back within the Disney campus for the NBA restart.

We spoke with AdventHealth's Senior Vice President and Chief Quality and Safety Officer Dr. Jeffrey Kuhlman and Orlando Magic Head Athletic Trainer Ernest Eugene about the intricate process of preparing protocols for the reopening of Magic practice facilities, what went into getting the team safely onto the Disney campus, and the mental aspect of dealing with the added stresses of playing basketball during a pandemic.

Expert Guidance for a Safe Start

AdventHealth’s Dr. Kuhlman has been on the front lines guiding the Orlando Magic through the uncertainties of COVID-19 since the first NBA player tested positive. Once the whirlwind of events led to the league shutting down, he would hold group Zoom meetings with players and staff to answer any questions or concerns, and was available via text or email for one-on-one communication. Knowing the team was more versed in pick-and-rolls than epidemiology, Dr. Kuhlman put together comprehensive documents outlining testing and procedures for players and staff.

Before the team would venture onto the Disney campus for the NBA restart, they began to practice voluntarily at the AdventHealth Practice Facility on May 14. There was about a two-month period where the Magic’s practice facility sat dormant. With everyone on high alert as we struggled to understand this new virus, AdventHealth and the Magic pulled out some serious technology: ultraviolet germicidal radiation. This special light can disinfect entire rooms of all pathogens from bacteria to viruses.

“This is the first-of-its-kind in the NBA. In hospitals, we use it to clean surgical equipment or disinfect N95 respirator masks,” explained Dr. Kuhlman.

Knowing the facility was clean was only half the battle — now they needed to know players and staff were healthy. Before anyone arrived to practice, telemedical consultations were done daily, with temperatures monitored and symptoms checked. Then everyone had to pass a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test: the nasal swab. Once tests came back negative, the facility was determined to be safe. The players and staff continue to be monitored and tested daily.

Dr. Kuhlman outlined some of the measures taken inside the practice facility:

  • Players came in at staggered times through a direct entrance attached to an outdoor garage area

  • Players had specific shoes that never left the facility to avoid virus transmission via the soles

  • Each player had their own set of sterilized basketballs, towels, chair, water bottles and protein bars

  • Players worked out individually with coaches and trainers; no group activities were allowed in the practice facility

The equipment managers worked diligently to follow the instructions of AdventHealth’s Dr. Kuhlman to ensure that each day players were given the same set of sterilized equipment.

Life and Basketball Inside the NBA Restart at Disney

Orlando Magic Head Athletic Trainer Ernest Eugene knew it would take more than isolated individual practice sessions to get the team ready for the rigors of NBA basketball. So, it was inevitable if the season was to go on, all the teams in the league would have to enter a sealed campus to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Eugene said, “Upon entering the campus, the testing began. Daily PCR tests were given where a nasal swab is inserted to each nostril as well as an oropharyngeal (via the mouth into the pharynx) swab. These tests isolate the virus RNA making them both quick and accurate. After entering and being tested, we all quarantined in our rooms on Disney property for 36 to 48 hours. And I think this gave everyone time to decompress and process the gravity of the situation we were getting ourselves into. I think it made us take it more seriously.”

He continued, “You can’t leave your room without a mask. We can’t stress the importance of masks enough. You take and record your own temperature and oxygen levels daily in your room, as well as a daily symptom and health questionnaire. You have to upload your results to the NBA MyHealth app. We all had to download this on our phones, and it helps keep track of everyone’s status. The app is connected to our electric wrist bands. And if you don’t update your info daily, your wrist band will alert healthcare personnel and restrict your ability to move freely through the campus until your data is up-to-date.”

Despite the unusual and complex circumstances the Magic find themselves in, Eugene is confident that the basketball part will be simple.

“I don't think there are any huge challenges because when I watch the players at practice, I feel that they're there mentally and really dialed in. They're still playing the game they love. They know everyone is tested daily, so they don’t have to worry about not touching or not being physical on the court. They can give it 100%. I think everybody is ready to get back and play basketball.”

In the event a player does test positive, they are quarantined for up to 14 days until they test negative in back-to-back PCR and antigen tests more than 24 hours apart. Only then can they be cleared to return to campus.

A Winning Partnership

Eugene says it best: “They say Disney World is the happiest place on Earth. But inside the NBA campus, I think it is the safest place on Earth.” 

With a team of experts on hand, including Dr. Kuhlman, the Magic are well on their way to playing basketball in the safest way possible with some of the best medical minds in Central Florida backing them up. The longstanding partnership between the Orlando Magic and AdventHealth has paved the way for the creation of new safety protocols during unprecedented times. We’re looking forward to an exciting finish to the season as they strive to make a strong playoff run.

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