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Floridians Get Coronavirus Test Results Slowly. Pro Athletes Are Tested Regularly

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Florida continues to see your record coronavirus cases and at the same time delays in getting test results. But that's not the case for NBA and Major League Soccer athletes playing in the Orlando area. Those players have had frequent access to quick COVID-19 testing. As NPR's Tom Goldman reports, that's raised ethical questions about the process.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been criticized for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak, including opening the state early in the beginning of May. But last night, he again sounded the alarm about delays residents are experiencing from when they're tested to when they get the results.

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RON DESANTIS: If you have somebody go through one of the sites and then they get a result back 10 days later, that is not really going to be very helpful.

GOLDMAN: In fact, it's potentially dangerous, says Zach Binney. He's an epidemiologist at Emory University.

ZACH BINNEY: Any delay in test results is another day that you, a normal person, could be walking around thinking you're negative when you're actually positive.

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UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #1: Kubo.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #2: Oh, what a save.

UNIDENTIFIED SPORTSCASTER #3: That's a smart stop because that was creeping inside the post.

GOLDMAN: Major League Soccer's restart tournament rolled on today in front of ESPN cameras and no fans. These soccer players and NBA players, both in protective bubbles in the Orlando area, have been getting daily or every other day testing with very quick results, sometimes in just 12 hours - not a good look considering the delays outside the bubbles.

BINNEY: I don't care about optics. I care about ethics.

GOLDMAN: And Binney would like to hear more from the leagues than just their oft-repeated assurance that they and the labs they're using are not taking away testing capacity from the public.

BINNEY: I would like to see a little bit of a deeper explanation of why they think that's not the case when the same lab that's conducting MLS's tests just a week ago was saying that they weren't turning around some tests for six days on average.

GOLDMAN: BioReference Labs does the testing for MLS and the NBA and many Florida residents. BioReference says the turnaround delays for residents that Binney cites were caused by a significant uptick in testing demand in June. The lab says it's now stabilized turnaround times to 72 hours or less. That's still more than the pro athletes. Asked whether they're being prioritized, BioReference executive chairman Dr. Jon Cohen doesn't answer no. He says his company customizes testing to the needs of each client.

JON COHEN: It's no different in my mind than a hospital that needs patients tested within a certain period of time which is not different than nursing homes that may need a certain turnaround time.

GOLDMAN: The sports leagues needed fast turnaround time so they could get up and running quickly. Many still see this as preferential treatment for young, rich, low-risk athletes. But Cohen says the leagues are more than the athletes. They're large employers whose return can help the economy.

COHEN: For us, it's about, how do we support this industry so that people can return to work? And there are real jobs at stake here.

GOLDMAN: The NBA continues to insist its testing program in Orlando will not result in testing capacity being diverted from the community. Asked why, a league representative said, the tests were brought in for their restart. The tests wouldn't have been in the community if the NBA weren't there. Still, the NBA and MLS appear sensitive to the criticism. Next week the NBA is launching a mobile testing site and hosting a drive-through testing event for the public. MLS is working with BioReference to provide antibody testing for the Orlando community.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.