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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Thinking About "The Bubble"

With Cameron Champ testing positive with COVID-19, it's time we take a moment to talk about "The Bubble."


If you've heard the the term but the concept is unfamiliar to you, the idea behind "The Bubble" is that you create an environment for a group of people -- in this case, athletes -- in which you can control their exposure to outside influences and thus (hopefully) keep them insulated from the effects of COVID-19.

It's the reason for closing events to fans (you don't know if they've been exposed to the virus or not), providing  transportation to events (viruses can spread quickly in the recirculated air on an airplane if just one person is sick), and limiting where and how you can get food (again, to limit contact with possible sources of infection). And with something that spreads as easily as COVID-19, it's a necessary evil.

A positive test (like Nick Watney's last week) was something most of the players expected, most likely because they were in the initial stages of creating "The Bubble." Players may have been exposed before they entered "The Bubble" but, after being in this consistently isolated group for a while, infections would cease to be an issue. So far so good.

But Cameron Champ's positive test has thrown them a bit of a curve. Cam wasn't in the original group so his addition in the third week becomes a wild card. He has potentially set the effectiveness of "The Bubble" back to Step One... and that's not good. The protection this situation was intended to provide is now not so certain, and that's the reason it's being reported that players are more concerned by this second positive test.

The effects could be far-reaching. If players can't be added to "The Bubble" without endangering its safety level, it could affect whether players can be added to fields. It could mean fans have to be excluded from events for a longer time. And it could even result in some events being cancelled in areas where COVID-19 cases are trending upward.

The Tour is already looking at how their testing procedures should be tweaked. I think the Ryder Cup moved a bit closer to being postponed because this uncertainty makes fan participation even less likely. (For the record, I think they should postpone the Ryder Cup. It's just not a Ryder Cup without the fans!)

And, short of a vaccine, if more players test positive over the next few weeks, it will likely make the powers-that-be question how effectively they can protect players from this virus.

Other sports are going to face the same problem. For example, the NBA's attempt to create a bubble by isolating a number of teams at the DisneyWorld's ESPN Resort so they can have some semblance of a playoff run has met with resistance from their players, many of whom are unhappy with the number of restrictions they'll have to follow in order to play.

But even if the players consent to following the rules, a few positive tests could cause their bubble to burst (pardon the pun). I think the PGA Tour must be at least a little worried about the same thing at this point.

We'll have to wait and see, of course. There's no reason to panic yet, as we're still early in the process and no one knows exactly what to expect. And it's always possible that researchers might make a breakthrough sooner than expected and completely change the narrative this story takes.

For the time being though, there's no guarantee that "The Bubble" won't be as fragile as its name implies. All we can do is hope for the best... and make sure you use those masks and sanitizer, okay?

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