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Report: UFC to conduct diagnostic swab and antibody COVID-19 tests upon arrival

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UFC will reportedly test fighters and cornermen upon arrival at the host hostel.

UFC Fight Night: Souza v Chambers Photo by Buda Mendes/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The UFC is hosting a trio of events in Jacksonville, Florida amid the coronavirus pandemic, starting with UFC 249 this Saturday. Safety has naturally been a main concern by many, but Dana White and UFC officials have mostly kept any specific medical screening and testing details private. More light is being shed about this now though, with a new report from ESPN stating the promotion will indeed be conducting COVID-19 tests.

According to the report, the UFC will administer “both the diagnostic swab coronavirus test as well as the antibody test” to fighters and their cornermen as soon as they arrive at the host hotel in Jacksonville.

Until those results come back, they will reportedly be “asked to not mingle in large groups and to try to self-isolate within reason.”

Also upon arrival, the fighters and cornermen will be informed of the medical and safety procedures for the week. As revealed earlier, this includes daily temperature checks and medical questionnaires during their mandatory screenings.

According to Dr. Donald Muzzi, president of the Association of Ringside Physicians (ARP), fighters “might have” different scheduled times for weigh-ins to prevent larger gatherings in the venue.

Although experts have already noted how COVID-19 tests doesn’t really eliminate the risk involved, having everyone involved undergo multiple tests does lessen it. There are pros and cons to the two tests mentioned, but having multiple tests is certainly a very good development.

A medical worker puts a swab sample into a vial at a mobile... Photo by Amarjeet Kumar Singh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Antibody Tests

As the name suggests, these are blood tests that look for antibodies that “generally arise four days to more than a week after infection.” You can get quick results in just a few minutes, but they “aren’t reliable enough.” They also “are not used to diagnose current disease” as it mainly checks if you’ve already had the virus.

There are also multiple types of antibody tests of varying quality and accuracy. They’ve been known to give many false positives and given people a false sense of immunity to the virus. Testing negative for COVID-19 antibodies also “doesn’t rule out the chance you could have an active infection” so one could be spreading the virus without even knowing it.

Diagnostic Swab

Diagnostic swabs or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, are swabs that are inserted deep into the person’s nasal cavities. They are generally the most reliable tests currently available, but it still isn’t perfect. A few days may pass before the virus replicates in the throat and nose, so these tests can cause false negatives as it “won’t identify someone who has recently been infected.” These are also said to “sometimes fail to pick up signs of active infection.”

Another issue is that the samples are generally sent to laps and can take multiple days for results to come in. There are speedier PCR tests that can get results in minutes, which the UFC could use, but accuracy is still in question, with early studies showing it to have 15% false negatives.

Since they have a policy above asking fighters not to mingle until the results come out, we can assume that they’re not using the quicker PCR tests that happens in just a few minutes. This would mean results from those tests would be more accurate, but it would also mean it will take longer to get results. This can pose some potential issues with the varying arrival times of fighters in the coming week.

According to ESPN, most fighters will arrive by plane Tuesday or Wednesday, with others taking the drive to Jacksonville and arriving on a different day. Donald Cerrone also reportedly plans to use his RV and arrive just in time for Friday’s weigh-ins.

All in all, the tests, especially individually, still pose some risk. There are also questions on when and how often these will be conducted, and whether the UFC would be completely transparent with these testing and its results.

That being said, this new information is a very good development, as two kinds of tests, combined all the other safety protocols, would indeed lessen the chance of infection. Whether that lessened risk would be satisfactory, could depend on which expert you ask, but the Association of Ringside Physicians seem to be agreeable with these precautions.