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When coronavirus hit the Utah Jazz and the NBA stopped, I became part of the story

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan meets with officials before an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz was postponed in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman via Associated Press

UPDATE: Deseret News Utah Jazz beat writer Sarah Todd reported Thursday morning she tested negative for COVID-19.


OKLAHOMA CITY — I doubt that I’ll be able to paint how truly strange of a scene it was at Chesapeake Energy Arena when the NBA stopped, but I’m going to try.

There were a couple players who were sick and might not be able to play Wednesday night, nothing out of the ordinary, and everything was going as usual leading up to game time. The music was blaring, the starters had already been announced, the officials had the ball in their hands. The game was seconds from tipping off.

Then it was like a flurry of movement. Someone ran onto the court, the refs and coaches talked for a few minutes and all of a sudden the players were waving to the crowd as they exited the court and headed back toward their respective locker rooms.

It was a frantic time trying to figure out what to do. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Andy Larsen raced toward the court and was stopped at the tunnel leading toward the locker rooms, he wasn’t allowed through. Myself and The Athletic’s Tony Jones immediately started texting and calling team and league personnel trying to figure out what was going on.

No one was answering.

Meanwhile members of the Oklahoma City Thunder game operations staff were trying to stall as the arena’s public address announcer said the contest was delayed waiting for league confirmation to start the game, something I have never heard in my eight years covering the NBA.

The halftime performer sang, dancers danced, T-shirt cannons were fired and then the PA announcer said, “Due to unforeseen circumstances the game has been postponed. You are all safe.”

Nobody feels safe hearing those words.

I made my way to the court and into a tunnel, circling the bowels of the arena until I arrived at where the team buses are located, hoping to find any team official. Soon after, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported that the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19, the reason for the game being called off.

It turns out that the person who sprinted onto the court was a member of the Thunder’s medical staff. The Oklahoma State Department of Public Health had only moments before received the positive results from Gobert’s COVID-19 test and alerted the team.

I worked to confirm the news about Gobert and then the NBA announced that the 2019-20 season had been suspended indefinitely.

I cover the NBA for a living but as a 5-foot-10, 33-year-old woman the chance of becoming a part of a story I’m covering in my line of work is incredibly slim. Wednesday night changed everything.

My initial impulse was to put on my journalist hat and get the facts. What’s going on? How long? Who is impacted? Who is being tested? When is it happening? Who is safe? Who is not?

That’s when I became a part of the story. I had been in direct contact with Gobert, a person who was confirmed to have tested positive for the disease. I’d been in close proximity while he was talking. I’d been around him while he was sweating. I was at risk. I was terrified.

My 62-year-old mother was supposed to fly into Salt Lake City on Friday morning to visit me for the first time since I moved to Utah and started covering the Jazz. I couldn’t risk putting my mother in danger, or anyone else for that matter. What do I do?

For at least three hours very little information was provided to members of the media at the arena regarding what we should do, if we would be tested, if we would be able to go home. We couldn’t just go back to our hotels, we couldn’t get on a commercial flight and risk possibly infecting countless others. We didn’t know what was going on. So, we sat and we waited.

The NBA league office eventually contacted myself and the other reporters assuring us that as people who were in direct contact with Gobert and the team that we would be tested along with everyone else who had direct contact.

In the grand scheme of things it took about six hours for the team, all the Jazz staff, the broadcast crew, and beat reporters to be tested, which doesn’t seem like a long time. But, those hours of unknown and confusion were unsettling.

After being tested, an epidemiologist from the Oklahoma State Department of Public Health gave us an informational rundown on the virus, how it is spread, and what those who were tested on Wednesday night would be facing moving forward.

To be clear, I am still at risk. I am awaiting the test results and even if they are negative I will be self-quarantined for two weeks because I could still develop symptoms and become infected.

The Utah Jazz, the Oklahoma State Department of Public Health, the Utah Department of Public Health, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all worked in conjunction Wednesday night and into Thursday morning to find ways to bring all of the at-risk persons home so that local public health officials can guide us through the next phase.

Once I’m back in Utah I will be self-quarantined for 14 days, which means I will be in my home without visitors and keeping a 6- to 8-foot distance from anyone to prevent any potential risk of spreading the disease and I will be in contact with Utah health officials who are monitoring the situation.

Anyone who has been in direct contact, which was defined to me as 15 to 20 minutes of close contact or shaking hands with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19, should take the same precautions no matter if symptoms occur.

For contrast, Gobert touching microphones on Monday morning has been defined as a low-risk situation that is unlikely to spread the virus.

Additionally, even infected persons can be around people or even cohabitate without spreading the virus as long as the correct preventative measures are taken. Keeping distance and not spending prolonged amounts of time in close proximity are key here according to public health officials.

The risk here is less about young, healthy people being infected and more about the spread of the disease to those who have immune systems that are more at risk.

The NBA will be suspended for at least two weeks so that everyone can go through the 14-day quarantine but the suspension is likely to last longer as the impact and effects of the current pandemic are still being learned about and understood.

As for me, I’m still learning as I go after one of the craziest nights in the NBA. I plan on keeping everyone updated on any information that I have and am incredibly grateful for the support that was shown for myself and the rest of the NBA on Wednesday.