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NBA “Bubble” Proves Successful as Season Comes to a Close

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  • Following the Los Angeles Lakers’ victory at the NBA Finals on Sunday, many celebrated the success of the NBA bubble, which effectively prevented the spread of COVID-19 among its players.
  • No player who passed through quarantine tested positive for the virus after entering the strict bubble and no game was canceled as the result of an outbreak.
  • This provides a stark contrast to the situations leagues like the MLB and NFL have found themselves in. Both have had to deal with large schedule changes due to outbreaks within teams.
  • The NBA season also ended on a powerful note, with Lakers players dedicating their win to Kobe Bryant, who died earlier this year in a tragic helicopter crash with his daughter Gigi and seven others.

NBA Bubble Success

The Los Angeles Lakers had a lot to celebrate Sunday night after winning the NBA finals against the Miami Heat, but their victory wasn’t the only massive success story to come out of the turbulent basketball season.

The NBA bubble in Disney World, which was home to the season’s restart, proved to be a triumph. No player who cleared quarantine tested positive for the coronavirus and no games were canceled because of an outbreak. The NBA’s season initially shut down in March after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. It picked back up in the bubble with games starting at the end of July.

There was a lot of speculation as to whether or not holding a season in a contained environment would work, but the NBA has proved those doubts wrong. The NBA’s ability to contain the virus is especially impressive in contrast to the way other professional American sports leagues have handled their seasons amid the pandemic. By the halfway point of its season, the MLB had postponed over 40 games because of the virus, with two teams having significant outbreaks. The NFL is dealing with outbreaks of its own on the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, resulting in schedule changes. 

Many have praised NBA commissioner Adam Silver for the bubble’s success, including Shahbaz Khan, the digital director for the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The NBA’s success relied on numerous health and safety strategies, including frequent COVID-19 testing. There were also strict quarantine rules that had to be followed upon entering the bubble, and once inside, players were not allowed to leave with very few exceptions. Outsiders were also not welcome inside, except for select Disney staff. However, as the playoffs picked up at the end of August, some team member’s families were allowed in as well. 

“A major key to the bubble’s success was the NBA’s attention to detail on everything from logistics to event planning to internal communication,”  Ben Golliver, an NBA reporter for The Washington Post, wrote in a piece detailing his life in the bubble. “There were many policies and rules, but they were logical and regularly reinforced.”

“The league’s leaders were receptive to feedback and open about their limitations, and their steadfast desire to complete the entire restart without a positive test revealed compassion rarely seen in big business,” Golliver added. “They had billions of reasons to keep everyone healthy, but their conduct and follow-through stood in stark contrast to those of leaders in the federal government and other sports.”

With its success, many now wonder how strategies similar to the bubble could be implemented in other businesses and areas of life. Golliver said that the bubble served as an “impressive public health achievement at a time when the United States desperately needed one.”

It should stand as a model for what can be done when immense resources are deployed thoughtfully, in good faith and in line with medical and scientific recommendations,” he wrote. 

Still, some thought that the bubble’s success relied on the massive amounts of funding put into it, which most facets of society cannot actually rely on or access. 

“I was skeptical, but the NBA bubble actually worked,” said Josh Hamblin, a doctor and staff writer for The Atlantic. “It’s a testament to human ingenuity and resilience how quickly we can reinvent things and get people back to work, safely and effectively, when a group of billionaires has a direct financial stake in making it happen.”

Powerful Win for the Lakers

While the bubble may have dominated much of the discussion around this season, the finals still ended on a powerful note. The Lakers win was especially meaningful following the tragic helicopter crash earlier this year that left Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and seven others dead. Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, wrote in an Instagram story that she wished her husband and daughter were around to see the win. Players on the Lakers also dedicated their victory to the Lakers legend. 

“I know he’s looking down on us proud of us. I know Vanessa’s proud of us, the organization’s proud of us,” said Anthony Davis. “It means a lot to us. It’s a tough moment, man. (cross talk among players) He was a big brother to all of us. We did this for him.” 

This season was also rocked by fights for social justice by NBA players. Back in August, the players held a strike, refusing to play games in protest of police brutality following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. They chose to resume the season, and Lakers star LeBron James was considered to be a leader in making that choice. 

James himself is generally seen as a leader when it comes to these movements in the league, making this win all the more impactful.

In Los Angeles, fans took to the downtown area to congregate at the Staples Center, despite pleas from Mayor Eric Garcetti to stay home and not form crowds at the arena during the pandemic.

Hundreds still gathered to celebrate. Eventually, the Los Angeles Police Department declared an unlawful assembly and arrested those refusing to leave the area. 

A total of 76 people were arrested. Police said that the gatherings turned “confrontational, violent and destructive” as bottles, rocks, and other objects were thrown.

See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Washington Post) (CBS News)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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