The International Swimming League has released the official medical protocols for its 2020 season, framing a ‘bubble’ model, but with athletes allowed to leave the bubble for short periods of time.
We’ve dug through the protocols and tried to unpack the key details below:
90 Minutes At A Time Outside the ‘Bubble’
The ISL uses the term ‘bubble’ to cover the areas where athletes will live, train and compete. But it’s not exactly a bubble in the strictest sense, as athletes are allowed “the occasional period of stay outside of the Bubble being maximum 90 minutes.”
That means athletes, coaches and officials can leave the bubble for an hour and a half. Re-entering the bubble will require a handful of medical protocols:
- A COVID-19 PCR test
- A body temperature check
- A health questionaire
The latter two points are considered “pre-triage checks” under the ISL protocol.
That’s where the ISL model differs some from the NBA Bubble that was used for professional basketball in the United States. In the NBA version, athletes could leave the bubble, but upon returning had to quarantine either four days (for excused absences) or 10 days (for unexcused absences).
What is the ‘Bubble’?
The ISL has defined the ‘Bubble’ as a combination of a few sites:
- The hotel(s)
- The training facilities
- The competition venue
- The team buses between venues
The map below shows all the key sites, with hotels represented by the green houses and the training/competition venues by the red stars:
The Hotels & Margaret Island
The protocol lists three hotels that will house ISL participants and no one else: the Thermal Margitsziget Health Spa Hotel, the Grand Hotel Margitsziget and the Danubius Hotel Helia.
The Thermal Margitziget and the Grand Hotel Margitziget are both on Margaret Island, a chunk of land about 1.5 miles by 550 yards (2.5 km x 500 m) in the middle of the Danube River. The Danubis Hotel Helia is just across the river to the east from Margaret Island.
The ‘Bubble’ allows athletes to move freely, not just within their hotel, but on the whole of Margaret Island. The protocols do disallow a few specific types of places within that bubble: participants cannot be in “enclosed public spaces” or “entertainment venues.”
Within the hotels themselves, hotel staff will be tested for COVID-19 under the same protocols as the athletes, coaches and officials. Athletes will each have their own rooms, while coaches or officials can be in single or double rooms.
Meals will be strictly scheduled, with all participants eating while socially distanced. Teams will have a conference room to hold team meetings when needed.
Training Facilities & Competition Venue
The training facilities are at both Duna Arena and the Dagaly Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool. Both are just off the island, along the river’s edge to the northeast. The two facilities are within walking distance of one another.
Competition will take place at Duna Arena.
The protocols expressly forbid mascots, team photos, handshakes and hugs while in the training and competition venues. (“If necessary, participants may use the toilets,” the protocols read).
Athletes will have to social distance in gyms, but are exempt from wearing masks in both the gym and pool.
Each team will have its own bus to travel from the hotel to the training and competition venues. The buses are considered a part of the bubble. Participants will social distance and wear facemasks, and must use hand sanitizer upon boarding.
What Happens If Someone Tests Positive
The ISL said earlier this month that all participants will be tested every five days. But what happens if someone tests positive for the coronavirus?
- The medical team will inform the person who tested positive
- Contact tracing: the ISL will identify anyone who was in close contact with the person who tested positive
- “close contact” is defined as someone who was in “close physical or personal conduct,” or who stayed in the same enclosed room with the person within 2 meters for at least 15 minutes
- The person will be tested again at least 48 hours later to rule out a false positive
- If the second test comes back negative and the person has shown no symptoms, they can be released from isolation
- If the second test is positive, they will be quarantined for at least 14 days
- The person will remain quarantined until at least 3 days after symptoms have disappeared
- Severe cases will be transported to the hospital
- For “close contacts” – they’ll be tested on the 5th and 7th days after their close contact with the COVID-19 positive person. If both of those tests are negative, the close contact can be released from isolation.
- Returning to training and competition will require an athlete to pass the league’s Return to Play protocols to make sure they are healthy enough for participation.
For the purposes of fans following the season and wanting to know how long a swimmer could be out of commission, here’s a general rule of thumb:
- For a positive test, a swimmer will be out of action for at least 14 days
- If they were in close contact with a person who tested positive, a swimmer will be out of action for at least a week
This is very similar to the NBA’s testing model, which also called for a 14-day quarantine after positive tests.
The protocols also give a sense of the scale of this ISL season. Per the protocols:
- About 750 people from 40-45 countries will travel to Budapest
- About 600 Hungarians will also participate and join the bubble, though without the international travel
- A smaller group will arrive between October 8-9, but the majority of the international participants will arrive either on October 11 or October 19.
- The bulk of the participants will leave on November 23.