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Immunologist and ringside physician react to UFC’s ‘weak’ COVID-19 testing protocols

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UFC is reportedly conducting two kinds of COVID-19 testing, and two doctors don’t think it’s sufficient.

Healthcare workers test for COVID-19 Photo by Steve Pfost/Newsday RM via Getty Images

The UFC hasn’t announced or confirmed any details, but the promotion is reportedly conducting two kinds of COVID-19 testing for their upcoming events. Staff, fighters, and cornermen are said to undergo “both the diagnostic swab coronavirus test as well as the antibody test” as soon as they arrive in the host hotel in Jacksonville, Florida.

There are still risks involved and limitations to these tests, but it’s certainly a good development that would lessen the chances of infection. It’s significantly better than the alternative, but whether or not that lessened risk would be enough for experts to agree with hosting events during the height of a pandemic, is a completely different topic.

The Association of Ringside Physicians seem to be agreeable with these precautions, and have reversed their initial stance of suspending all shows. Two other doctors though, still aren’t convinced.

Alan Schenkel, an immunologist and professor, calls the testing protocols “pretty weak.”

Antibody tests, as he alluded to, “are not used to diagnose current disease” as it mainly checks if you’ve already had the virus in the past. It doesn’t rule out active infections or prevent the spread. It may have a future use checking possible immunity, but currently, the tests aren’t accurate enough.

A diagnostic swab, as discussed earlier, is the most reliable test to date, but also has some risk of false negatives as it “won’t identify someone who has recently been infected.” It may take a couple of days before the detectable symptoms are in the nose and throat, and this is likely why Professor Schenkel suggests two nasal swabs instead of one, for a much more accurate finding.

Dr. Margaret Goodman, a veteran ringside physician, reiterated her stance on COVID-19 tests not being sufficient, and echoed Dr. Schenkel’s thoughts on quarantine. She also slammed the ARP for reversing their stance on hosting events during this pandemic.

Two tests would certainly mitigate some risk, but there’s also an issue of resources and transparency. Dana White has money and government connections at his disposal, but when many hospitals and states lack tests, will the UFC have enough of them for every single staff, fighter, and cornerman involved in the four shows they’ve planned this May? Can they take doctors’ advice and conduct multiple swabs per person? Will those fall on the UFC, or the athletic commissions moving forward?

What about for the dozens of follow up events they plan on cranking out back-to-back if they’re successful this month? Can they get those results in time with the varying arrival times and modes of transport planned by fighters?

As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 testing is certainly a very good development, and they’re likely to push through with their schedule because of it. There are still valid questions to be asked and a few concerns raised by medical experts though. The UFC will be among the first to host major events, and as they push on during the height of this pandemic, hopefully they would change their stance and become more transparent about safety and testing moving forward.