The National Women’s Soccer League enters its final week of competition in Utah without having registered a single confirmed positive COVID-19 case among players or staff in nearly a month of isolating in the greater Salt Lake City area. While the eight-team tournament — which does not include the Orlando Pride due to a series of false positives pre-tournament — is significantly smaller in scale than the ones other leagues are trying to host, it is a significant feat and proof that protocols are working.
“We have now completed more than 2,000 tests and have had zero positive cases of COVID-19,” a league spokesperson said.
Those protocols were put to the test in a scare last week inside ‘the bubble’ — as the athlete village is referred to — when a facility worker initially tested positive for COVID-19, per multiple sources. But subsequent tests determined that to be a false positive. Sources say that the facility worker had minimal to no close contact with any players or staff, but won’t work the rest of the tournament out of an abundance of caution.
Teams temporarily halted some normal activities — including the use of indoor spaces, like gyms and cafeterias — after the July 15 COVID-19 test result indicated a facility employee had contracted the virus. But NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, in a July 17 email to team owners and representatives, which was obtained by The Equalizer, confirmed that subsequent tests from medical partner ARUP Laboratories confirmed negative results. “We remain COVID-free,” Baird wrote underlined in the email.
Her email to team representatives spoke of her satisfaction with everyone’s adherence to protocols, which have tested the mental health of players and staff inside the bubble: “This has been an extraordinary effort by every single person in Utah for this Cup and everyone associated with the league. I have been so impressed by how focused and committed everyone is to our collective success and health on and off the field. And we are getting it done. I’m so proud of our league.”
The league faced issues with the Orlando Pride’s removal from the tournament prior to arriving in Utah, but has managed to keep the COVID-19 virus out of the bubble through three-plus weeks of play. At least one Pride player contracted the virus — and several others falsely tested positive (Orlando uses a different lab) — after several groups of players on that team went out to social spaces like bars and nightclub — which were legally open in Florida at the time — as The Equalizer reported in June. As reported the same week, many of those tests proved to be false positives. United States defender Ali Krieger was among the players who were false positives.
Orlando forward Sydney Leroux, in the first public interview by a Pride player which addresses the situation, confirmed as much last week on The Crack Podcast.
“There [were] plenty of places; there wasn’t just one place,” she said.