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'They should put communities first': ALL NBA teams 'obligated' to provide players' BLOOD in search for COVID-19 breakthrough in US

'They should put communities first': ALL NBA teams 'obligated' to provide players' BLOOD in search for COVID-19 breakthrough in US
Players from every team in the NBA are being expected to provide blood samples as part of a major study into the novel coronavirus – with the doctor behind the scheme telling them to “do something right for their communities”.

Dr Robby Sikka, the vice president of Basketball Performance and Technology for the Minnesota Timberwolves, has teamed up with the state's Mayo Clinic medical center for a major study that aims to discover more about which people have a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 and how prevalent the disease is.

Players, coaches, executives and staff will be tested under the plans, which follow a study carried out across Major League Baseball in April that found only 0.7% of participants carried antibodies for the virus.

"We are learning about this disease," Sikka told ESPN, speaking ahead of finger prick blood draws that will be conducted as team practice facilities continue to open more fully across the country.

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"We have learned a lot in two months. So if we can take the next two months, learn on the fly, mitigate risk, then we can move pretty quickly to do the right things to have safe play.

"I think teams are obligated to do something right for their communities before they do right for anybody else."

Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns' mother, Jacqueline, died because of complications from COVID-19 on April 13 after being put in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator.

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The center, whose father also tested positive but later recovered, subsequently donated $100,000 to the clinic, which describes itself as "the number one hospital in the nation" and has had a long partnership with the team.

Praising Sikka as a doctor who could "attack blind spots", club president Gersson Rosas said Towns had encouraged the team to lead their testing drive.

"We took that cue and looked for ways to be good teammates to the NBA and the 29 other teams," he explained.

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"[We are] connecting with Mayo Clinic to try to find strategies to fight the virus."

Sikka hopes the tests will help doctors to understand whether antibodies provide immunity to the virus, validate the use of the finger prick method while there is still a shortage of available tests in the US and identify which people have had the virus but remained asymptomatic.

There was uproar when sports teams were perceived to have been given greater access to testing than the general population after the NBA was suspended on March 13, and the national death toll from the virus has now risen to more than 92,000 in the US.

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"It very much hit home for us," Sikka said of Towns' family tragedy. "I am never going to forget that experience with Karl.

"It changed my life, it changed his life, it changed our organization's history. It was extremely challenging for everybody."

An expert in sports injury recovery, Sikka is one of 10 people on the NBA's sports science committee. His supporters are likely to include Utah Jazz, whose own player, Rudy Gobert, did not display symptoms of illness before being diagnosed as the first NBA player infected with COVID-19.

While some fans voiced optimism that the idea could help officials to decide when the NBA might be able to resume its season, others voiced doubts that the tests would provide meaningful results.

"Testing a large group of wealthy individuals who have had the ability and means to isolate themselves for the last eight weeks does [not do] a whole lot to inform you on the spread of a virus," said one.

Another called the move "self-serving", adding: "Testing the most fit individuals is not a sample that does much good."

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The Mayo Clinic became embroiled in a COVID-19 controversy at the end of last month when President Donald Trump's deputy, Mike Pence, visited the hospital without wearing a mask.

Pence, who is leading the White House coronavirus taskforce, appeared to be the only person at the event without a mask, breaching site guidance issued by organizers.

The clinic deleted a tweet in which it said Pence had been notified of its policy of wearing masks in advance, and the vice president defended his actions before later apologizing.

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