- The Washington Times
Sunday, January 17, 2021

The question was simple. The answer was anything but.

Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard was asked how the team’s current COVID-19 outbreak happened. Over the last week, the Wizards have had six players test positive — but Sheppard said the team and the league are still trying to determine the cause. 

Sheppard acknowledged the team may never know the entire picture. 

“The contact tracing is very necessary, but it’s also difficult because it could have been anywhere, anytime,” Sheppard said, later adding, “There’s not any one specific thing you can point to that and say, it was ‘This person who got it from that person’ … I don’t think we’ll ever be that evolved.”

The Wizards, unable to practice or play because of the coronavirus, are left like the rest of the NBA searching for answers as 14 games have been postponed since the season started not even a month ago. 

The league has updated and tightened its protocols, but the return rates on positive tests continue to climb.

Of the Wizards’ 17 players, nine are wrapped up in the league’s health and safety protocols. In addition to the six who have the virus, three others are in isolation because of contact tracing. Giving a press conference Friday evening alongside coach Scott Brooks, Sheppard said four of the Wizards’ six players with the virus are asymptomatic. The other two, he added, have mild symptoms. 

In studying the outbreak, Sheppard said the team believes the transmission most likely came on the court. None of the Wizards’ staff — coaches, trainers and other personnel — have tested positive, he said — meaning the team doesn’t have reason to suspect there was an outbreak in the team’s facility. 

The Wizards, too, went through a three-game stretch in which a player on the other team tested positive for the virus after playing the Wizards. That means the Wizards could have potentially been exposed that way. 

The NBA, for example, required Wizards star Bradley Beal to quarantine after being deemed a close contact of Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who tested positive a day after beating the Wizards. Cameras showed Beal and Tatum — childhood friends from St. Louis — hugging after the game. 

Washington has had four games postponed so far due to the outbreak, and the team’s next game is scheduled for Wednesday in Charlotte. But that game could be in jeopardy given that Washington has yet to hold a full practice. 

Sheppard said Washington would likely need to have some sort of ramp-up period before being cleared to play again, given the time off. On Saturday, the team’s healthy players returned to the facility for individual “1-on-0” workouts, a person familiar with the situation said. The Wizards have had no additional positives since Friday. 

The NBA requires at least eight healthy players to hold a game. The six who have tested positive must remain out at least 10 to 14 days, beginning from the initial positive test. Washington’s positives came over a series of days last week, beginning with two players who tested positive last Tuesday.

Asked if the league should pause the season, Sheppard said he would leave that decision up to the NBA

Sheppard, though, said he didn’t blame anyone for the Wizards’ outbreak. He added the Wizards have “full trust” in the league to handle the situation.

“To assign blame or to take too much time worrying about what could have been done is wasted time,” Sheppard said. “We gotta just look forward and see how we can continue to get better and learn better and learn more.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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