Three days after withdrawing from the NWSL Challenge Cup due to multiple players and staff testing positive for the coronavirus, the Orlando Pride announced that new tests have produced inconsistent results. However, the team's participation in the tournament remains unlikely because of contact-tracing protocols, which were the primary impetus for the last-minute withdrawal.
The Equalizer initially reported the new inconsistent test results.
The National Women's Soccer League said Monday that a total of six players and four staff members from the Pride initially tested positive for the coronavirus. The majority of those results came Monday. That led the team, which had been training in Florida, to withdraw from the tournament that is set to begin in Utah this weekend and marks the return of professional team-sports leagues in the United States amid the pandemic.
"On Thursday, Orlando Pride received test results for the second round of COVID-19 testing for the team's players and staff, which indicated inconsistencies from previous tests," the team said in a statement. "The Club will conduct a third round of testing as soon as possible in order to come to conclusive results for all members of the team, both staff and players. The Club will provide a further update once all necessary testing is completed."
Orlando did not specify how many of those inconsistencies involved those who initially tested positive. Diogo Kotscho, senior VP of communications for the Orlando Pride and Orlando City SC, told ESPN that the new tests still included some positive results.
On Monday, Dr. Daryl Osbahr, the Orlando team physician and a member of the league's medical advisory board, cited contact-tracing protocols put in place for the tournament among the reasons for Monday's withdrawal. League protocol calls for high-risk contacts to be quarantined, and that those players "cannot return to practice until 14 days have passed since the date of exposure to COVID-19 positive individual and contact has not subsequently developed symptoms."
Thus contact tracing, rather than the volume of positive tests, was and remains the biggest inhibitor to the Pride attempting to participate in the tournament.
"Our decision [to withdraw] doesn't change if it's five positive cases or if it's 10 or if it's two," Kotscho said.
High-risk contacts include those who have had exposure of more than 10 minutes within six feet.
"Even with lower cases, we wouldn't be able to go [to the Challenge Cup] because we had to quarantine several players because they live at the same apartment," Kotscho said. "Some of them had access to the training facility, and they work together for more minutes than are allowed by the NWSL guideline."
The league reconfigured the schedule for the eight remaining teams in the Challenge Cup after Orlando's withdrawal and is moving ahead with the tournament. But the inconsistent test results out of Florida point to the difficulties inherent in returning to competition during a pandemic.
"Since the beginning it was irresponsible [of the NWSL] to release the number of positives because some of them were inconclusive," Kotscho said. "That's why we didn't [release the number of positives], not because we are trying to hide anything, but because they were inconclusive."