Does the Public Have a Right to Know Which Athletes Tested Positive for COVID-19?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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Not even a global pandemic can put a stop to Angelo Cataldi’s fake outrage routine.

I thought Angelo might change up his approach during a health crisis, but today he decided to tweet this out:

Alright, I’ll bite.

There’s actually a reasonable question buried in there, a question about privacy vs. public health. But first, some background information:

I was told, via a source, that the Sixers made contact with ushers and arena personnel who were within close proximity of the players during the most recent game against the Pistons. Those individuals were then informed of the three positive tests as the Sixers did follow-up calls to check on their well-being. With the locker room area and back hallway closed off to media that night, my educated guess is that the only people who came within contact of Sixers players would be those arena workers, plus other Sixers personnel like doctors, the equipment folks, the coaching staff, public relations, etc. Media was barred from the locker room and the only availability that night was with Ben Simmons (pregame) and Elton Brand and Brett Brown (postgame), who were sitting at least ten feet away from us, at a table that was cordoned off.

Friday, Sean Brace, who was the first to report that two Sixers players were among the three positive tests, broached the ‘right to know’ subject with more nuance than his radio counterpart:

“I did not learn any of the players’ names, nor would I put that out there. But it brings up an interesting conversation – we as the public, don’t we have a right to know who these players are? I know the Sixers as an organization are not the only one to not put this out there. But there are other players that will remain nameless across the league. The most important thing we can do is to just stay away from anybody who has a possibility of being infected at this point in time, and if you did come across player A or player X, shouldn’t you go get tested?”

Of course we’re beholden to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which passed in 1996 and includes a privacy rule protecting the disclosure of health information. For example, if you go to Temple Hospital for the removal of a cyst, that’s information that only you and your doctor are privy to. The doc needs your consent to release that information, which illustrates why athletes’ injury and rehab situations are often hard to write about. We don’t have access to protected medical information like Markelle Fultz’s shoulder scans or Joel Embiid’s Navicular bone X-rays. We’re speaking with coaches and general managers, who are trying to deliver information that was passed to them via the public relations staff and/or team doctors.

The question, then, is whether the Coronavirus crisis changes our stance on HIPAA. Legally, it can’t, since the law is the law (with some gray areas), but you do see a lot of information being volunteered with altruism in mind. Tom Hanks, for example, could have gone into isolation without saying squat, but informed the entire world of his positive test. Idris Elba came out and did the same thing, and the thinking here goes something like this:

“Oh shit, I met Idris Elba last week and shook his hand, I should probably go and get tested.”

You would also assume that somebody who tested positive would inform family, friends, or anybody they came into contact with them in order to provide a heads up. That’s the “greater good” idea and Angelo and Sean are alluding to.

And that seems to be what the Sixers are doing here, within legal limits. It’s not pertinent to know which players specifically have the Coronavirus. That’s private information. But the team went out and called up the people who may have been in contact with the players who do have the virus, as a matter of due diligence and responsibility. That seems like the best middle ground case we can ask for.

If athletes want to reveal personal health information, that’s their prerogative. It’s not our call, but the Sixers taking the extra step to inform at-risk people should, hopefully, assuage the concerns of crabby radio hosts.

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12 Comments

  • end of story March 23, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Ultra liberal Simmons (aussie) and Embid have it

    Reply
    • Real Ity Check March 23, 2020 at 1:02 pm

      Unlike you, viruses aren’t partisan, bud.

      Reply
  • hipaa March 23, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    no one needs to know shit…..

    Reply
  • Harv March 23, 2020 at 12:54 pm

    The Dollar General in Darby was looted this morning. Arm yourself now. HS 5717 is up for vote tomorrow. This law will outlaw firearms in America. Wake up folks.

    Reply
    • Real Ity Check March 23, 2020 at 1:01 pm

      You’re saying both the President and GOP-controlled Senate will pass this? Because, you know, that’s the only way this becomes law. All the House can do is send it to the Senate, where it will die a quick death. (And I’ll bet you’re one of those “the lib media is trying to cause a panic” losers too…)

      Reply
  • Philly Expat March 23, 2020 at 12:55 pm

    This is where information asymmetry that is inherent to sports gambling matters (at least for a short period). Anecdotal information has come out of severe lung damage to patients, including highly fit marathoners (@DavidLat). Hypothetically, if Simmons has it and experiences lung damage, anyone who has the information is going to wager knowing he’s going to play fewer minutes, especially in the 4th. After a game or two, the info will be out of the bag, but regular sports gamblers are going to get hosed in those first couple games, since you know the books will pursue the info (and guard it). When gambling was illegal, this didn’t matter as much since you got screwed during an illegal activity: that’s what you deserve. But now that it’s legally sanctioned, it raises more issues regarding HIPPA and the information asymmetry. I’m surprised that health disclosure wasn’t more of an issue in the NFL CBA due to recent gambling laws.

    Oh, and to make this CB post compliant: racist racist racist, sexist sexist sexist, troll the libs/Kinker, and Foles-is-better-than-Wentz.

    Reply
  • Hey Harv March 23, 2020 at 1:06 pm

    Get some fresh air.

    What is HS 5717. Maybe HR 5717?

    You obviously just make it up as you go along.

    Your misinformation is “vial”.

    😂😂😂😂❄️❄️🧚‍♂️

    Reply
    • Ted March 23, 2020 at 1:20 pm

      Logistics question. How will a bunch of unarmed betas defeat well armed alphas?

      Reply
      • Several answers March 23, 2020 at 1:51 pm

        First – learn the definition of logistics. You just seem silly.

        Second – it seems the beta would be the one afraid of their own shadow and they feel manly when armed. Being scared does not make you an alpha.

        Third – nobody will be coming to my house to rob me. I am more likely to run into some paranoid, sissified beta – chasing around the illegal coming to cut my lawn.

        Lastly – is it humiliating to be so scared ?

        Reply
        • dude for real March 23, 2020 at 3:50 pm

          your argument is armed = scared

          So when another man is trying to take your belongings, possibly r ap e a family member wife or daughter (as nomad groups of looters/gangs tend to do throughout history in this country, seats in the superdome were crime scenes for r ap e during katrina look it up cause rachel maddow aint giving you those facts) you believe your virtue signalling will stop those acts? Do you think crime disappears when you blow into a dandelion at people? Just because you only know what you have seen, and cannot decipher that step A leads to step B (unemployment, lack of resources, hunger, desperation leads to violence, all throughout the history of mankind) that does not make others scared for having weapons. pilots have parachutes on board for WORST case scenarios, do you just believe worst case is impossible? It has already happened countless time in our society (LA riots in the 90s, katrina)…what makes you better? if you do not want to be prepared, you do not have to. just understand that does not make you superior. it makes you a dimwit.

          Reply
  • Trust the Virus March 23, 2020 at 2:29 pm

    Since hearing Cataldi’s non-spot panicky whines after the virus-caused closures of sports – I lost all respect for him and will never listen again to WIP morning show until he’s gone. All he does is sow panic and fear for his ratings, it’s absolutely disgusting. This past week or two he’s revolted me with his sickening spewing of craven rantings – this gutless alarmist is a disgrace to the airwaves, never again for me, I’m done. Since I don’t like Farzetta either, today I started listening to music in the mornings, and you know, I should have done this a long time ago. Why I ever listened to Angelo, who actually knows nothing about sports, just everything about ratings-centered sensationalsim, is beyond me – I was a dummy. Thank you coronavirus for my awakening.

    Reply
    • i hope they all get it March 23, 2020 at 3:52 pm

      You didn’t lose all respect for him after he spent a week praising Kobe the r@pist?

      And to answer Kevin’s question–Who gives a fuck?

      Reply

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