Tech Keeping NBA Players Safer Inside Their Bubble

As stadiums across the country sit empty, sporting organizations have been hard at work coming up with ways to keep their athletes safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. In one of the highest-profile experiments of the year, the National Basketball Association chose to put its teams and support staff into isolation at facilities around the Disney World resort in Florida. 

The NBA turned to a mix of aggressive isolation, traditional hygiene practices and new technology to limit possible spread if the virus makes its way into the campus. The Orlando Magic’s “Glass Half Full” blog described the situation:

“In the bubble, players, coaches and staff use a mobile app and the Oura ring to monitor health, a Kinexon tracking device to measure social distance and a Disney Magic band which is scanned at various checkpoints around the hotel and practice sites to give you an all clear green light notification. Everyone also has a thermometer and fingertip pulse oximeter in their room. There’s healthy habits signage everywhere and NBA-branded masks and hand sanitizer is readily available.”

The 3 key tools in the plan are Oura smart rings, Kinexon smart tags and Disney Magicbands. Let’s explore how they work and what role they play in keeping the NBA campus safe.

So… What’s an Oura?

Like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch, Oura is a wearable fitness tracker with sensors that record health and wellness information. Most wearables look and feel like a wristwatch, but Oura is different. It is a lightweight titanium band worn on a finger rather than the wrist. 

The embedded sensors track physical activity, heart rate and body temperature. The battery lasts for about a week and all the collected data is sent to a companion smartphone app. Temperatures are taken directly from the wearer’s skin and infrared light reads the heart rate through blood vessels in the finger. The Oura app evaluates the information, along with sleep and step measurements, to create an overall Readiness score. Players’ data can also be sent to the NBA’s clinical teams for review.

Temperature checks are one of the most common screening measures introduced to combat COVID-19, and Oura is one of the few wearables capable of tracking it. Employers, schools, theme parks, and other public venues have begun to use heat-sensing cameras and touchless thermometers to check for fever upon entry and sometimes, particularly for employees at work, upon exit as well. Oura tracks temperature throughout the day, providing a lot more data to use when identifying possible illness.

Why a Tracking Tag?

Smart tags, like the Kinexon SafeZone, can be used to promote social distancing between people and make contact tracing easier. Social distancing is handled through a feature Kinexon calls “contact warning.” The tag alerts the wearer whenever another tag comes within a predetermined distance. This helps prevent incidents where users might unconsciously move too close together. As for contact tracing, if a user tests positive for COVID-19, records of which tags have been in contact can be used to determine who else may have been exposed. The tags can also be configured to operate in groups or zones, so only people from outside a given team or housing area will cause an alert.

How Do Disney Magicbands Help?

If you’ve visited Disney World since 2013, you’ve probably seen MagicBands. They’re waterproof bracelets that act as a high-tech tap-and-go combination of room key and park ticket. MagicBands can also be used to support isolation procedures by controlling access to areas of the campus. And, using the same wireless technology that makes ride photos magically appear in your Disney account, they can let contact tracers identify where wearers have been.

The Take-Home

Through clever use of consumer and business devices, the NBA has shown how existing technologies can be used to support pandemic control efforts. ESPN reports that COVID-19 tests and medical screenings are carried out as frequently as every day, and all other CDC recommendations are also being followed. The tools provide an extra layer of protection to keep the NBA players and staff safe and basketball on TV for fans to enjoy.

Sean Marsala is a health writer based in Philadelphia, Pa. Passionate about technology, he can usually be found reading, browsing the internet and exploring virtual worlds.

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