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COVID-19 tests expected for fighters, coaches prior to UFC 249

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

All of the fighters, training partners and coaches attending UFC 249 are expected to undergo COVID-19 testing before the April 18 event.

The UFC already has started to organize testing for athletes and teammates who will be in their corners, multiple people with knowledge the promotion’s plans told MMA Fighting.

The UFC is expected to send test kits to fighters and their teams ahead of the event, which is currently rumored to take place at Tachi Palace Casino Resort in Lemoore, Calif. A second round of testing is also expected to take place on site at UFC 249.

Testing is one of the strongest measures the promotion can take to ensure those who attend the event are negative for the coronavirus, which has an incubation period of up to 14 days. It doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of spreading the virus. According to the CDC, it’s possible a person in the early stages of infection could test negative on the tests recognized by the public health institute.

The reliability of tests is also a developing issue; false negatives have been found in the widely used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test where a swab is taken from the back of the throat. Several private companies are offering at-home tests, though their efficacy has not been verified. It’s unknown what kind of tests the UFC is employing as well as the turnaround time for results.

Time and time again, UFC president Dana White has promised that the promotion is going above and beyond when it comes to the health and safety of the athletes competing on the upcoming card.

He’s stopped short of explicitly confirming the athletes will be tested for COVID-19. But it appears that’s the plan before the UFC returns to action in the wake of postponing a trio of events due to the ongoing pandemic.

”Health and safety is something we worry about all the time, not just during the coronavirus,” White told ESPN. “Obviously, this has made our jobs a little tougher, but we’re going to do everything above and beyond to make sure everybody is safe, just like we always do. A lot of things will be different.”

The full scope of testing is unclear at this time. But White has indicated COVID-19 will also done for the UFC’s production staff as well as judges, referees and other cageside officials working at UFC 249. No crowd will be in attendance at the event.

While UFC 249 will be the first show back for the promotion since March, the organization is planning on holding several events in consecutive weeks following the card on April 18.

White has stated that the UFC is also close to securing a private island where fights will be held for international fighters who are unable to travel into the United States due to restrictions in place to prevent further outbreaks of the coronavirus.

UFC 249 will be headlined by an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Justin Gaethje.