The NHL Announces Enhanced COVID-19 Protocols

Over the past few weeks, the NHL has been struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks on teams. This has led to numerous games being postponed. As a result, last night, the NHL COVID-19 protocols got an update. Many of these new protocols are listed as recommendations. But, I think it’s safe to say that’s just the league’s way of making it seem like a choice to keep teams happier. However, I’m sure it’s been made clear to teams that they need to follow all of these to the extent possible. But anyway, without further ado, here’s what’s new.

Game Day Rapid Tests

Perhaps the most notable addition to the NHL COVID-19 protocols is that of rapid testing on game days. While not yet required, the league is working with all of its’ U.S.-based teams to get it set up. They are also working to get it set up for the Canadian teams. But, the U.S. ones are a priority since there have been no outbreaks *frantically knocks on wood* on any of the Canadian teams yet (which is likely due to stricter protocols and Canada doing a better job handling the virus as a country). The teams will have to acquire the tests themselves.

Once the league determines there is enough for every team, it will become a requirement. Until then, it appears to still be a recommendation since not every team has access to it right now. But, I think it’s safe to say that it’s not really a recommendation anymore. If you have access to it, you do it. If not, you work on finding a way to get enough tests so you can. These tests will be administered to all players, coaches, and on-ice officials who are in and around the bench area during games.

The rapid tests will be in addition to the daily PCR tests, which are more effective but results take longer. Up until now, rapid tests had only been used at the discretion of teams. They were most commonly when a player was returning from the protocol list. In addition to these new tests, the league will also be sending some test samples off for further analysis to determine the specific strand the person was infected with, which will help further estimate possible transmission.

Stricter Work/Home Quarantine

From now on, players, coaches, training and equipment staff, and all other members of a team’s traveling party are required to stay home unless they’re going to the rink for a game or practice, exercising individually outdoors, performing an essential task such as going to the doctor or dealing with a family emergency or other extraordinary circumstance. Up until now, they had been strongly advised to avoid leaving the house unless they were doing these things. But, it wasn’t an official requirement, so it’s nice to see it become one.

Virtual Team Meetings

From this point forward, all team meetings are required to be virtual. This includes coaching meetings and video sessions. Up until this point, it was just advised that as many of these as possible be conducted virtually. This is being done to help limit the amount of time players are spending together in close contact.

N95 Masks

It has been a requirement from the beginning that players, coaches, and everybody involved with the team or in the rink at any point wear a mask unless they are exercising. But now, the league is strongly recommending that teams begin providing KN95 masks instead of the standard surgical ones that they have been up until this point. They are still to be worn at all times except when exercising, including when players are in the locker room.

N95 masks have proven to be the most effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19, but healthcare workers have been given priority for them (for obvious reasons). One can safely assume that part of the league’s recommendation is that this is only to be done in the case of excess so they don’t take them away from healthcare workers.

No More Glass Behind the Penalty Box

Last week, the NHL mandated that the glass be removed from behind the benches. This was done in hopes of increasing ventilation on the benches. Now, they’ve taken it one step further and are mandating that the same be done for the penalty box for the same reason. To protect any spectators in the building, teams will have to put up mesh netting in place of the plexiglass. This will also help with identifying would-be delay of game penalties for pucks going over the bench.

In addition to this, if there are any fans in the building and they’re sitting near the bench or penalty box, teams will have to install plexiglass barriers at least 25 feet back from both these areas. There will also have to be security directly behind the benches and penalty boxes.

Reconfigured Seating Assignments

Perhaps the most unique addition to the league’s protocols is that of the reconfigured assigned seating. The NHL is now encouraging teams to reconfigure all assigned seating (so in the dressing room, on the bus and plane, and at meals) so that players who have previously had COVID-19 are sitting next to those who have never had it. The logic behind this is that there is some evidence that you have some protective immunity from the virus for at least 90 days after you contract it. So, the league is hoping that previously infected players and other team staff members will act as a buffer for those who have never had it.

It might do something, it might do nothing. At the very least, it’s worth a shot. At worst, they did it for little to no benefit, and at best they prevent the spread of the virus. That’s certainly a worthy gamble.

My Thoughts

I think all of the new NHL COVID-19 protocols will help. The most effective one will almost certainly be that of rapid testing, but the rest are important as well. Anything that can be done to improve ventilation on the ice should be. Whatever can reasonably be done to limit the time players spend in close contact off the ice should be done. And obviously, anything that can be done to limit potential exposure should be. All of these protocols, in addition to the previous ones, will go a long way towards doing that.

Many people poked fun at removing the glass behind the bench, saying it won’t do much. But, speaking from experience, it will. The amount of air that gets trapped in the bench would surprise a lot of people. So, removing the glass will be a huge help on the bench, which is when the players are closest to each other for the longest without masks. 

It’s ugly right now, so it’s good to see the league stepping up and taking the necessary steps. Ones like virtual meeting and rapid testing probably should’ve been done since the beginning, but it’s better late than never. So, let’s just hope the results of the new NHL COVID-19 protocols speak for themselves sooner rather than later, and the league can start to get this situation under control.

-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)

Featured image courtesy of media.nhl.com.

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