Re-emerging Covid-19 breaks strictest protocols, upsets return of live professional sport

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The respective basketball and hockey seasons also began soon, with additional protocols, terms of reference and testing requirements for players and staff.

“The sports world, until very recently – like last week or maybe two weeks – had done a pretty good job of keeping things under control and that was because they were actually doing better than the Most areas of the real world, “said Zach Binney, sports epidemiologist at Oxford College at Emory University.

What started as a hopeful sporting season has turned once again into a time of panic and uncertainty as the leagues try to adjust to the most recent wave of infections, a reflection of this happening in localities across the country.

Former US Surgeon General Dr Jerome Adams told CNN’s “New Day” on Thursday that others should pay attention to professional sports because “they’re really a window into the spread of the community.”

“Kudos to the sports leagues because they actually do a fantastic job of watch testing,” Adams said. “And the rest of the country, we’re driving a car down a dark road with the headlights off while looking in the rearview mirror, and we hit a bump and we say what was it? surveillance right now for Covid. “

Leagues strive to control recent increase

The three big sports leagues of the season right now – NFL, NBA, and NHL – have strict testing protocols in place from the start and have required that at least Level 1 staff, like coaches or any person in direct contact with the athletes, get vaccinated. No major professional sports league in the United States has required its players to be vaccinated.
Even without a warrant, a large percentage of athletes in each league received the vaccine, according to the numbers for each league. The NFL said Wednesday that 94.6% of players are vaccinated. The NBA announced in November that 97% of players were vaccinated, a league source told CNN, and the NHL said in October that all but four players were vaccinated.
That hasn’t stopped the most recent outbreaks, however, forcing the leagues to change their Covid-19 policies.

On Tuesday, 28 NFL players tested positive for Covid-19, just a day after the league reported 37 positive tests on Monday.

The league on Thursday announced a return to more stringent protocols, which will be in effect until Monday, according to a league memo. Teams must reimpose restrictions such as mandatory mask wear indoors at team facilities, social distancing, take-out service in team cafeterias, limits on the number of people allowed in weight rooms, restrictions on activities outside the facility, including on-the-road dining and fully virtual meetings.

The NFL will also require Level 1 and 2 staff to obtain a Covid-19 recall by December 27, according to a league memo. This mandate does not apply to NFL players. Level 1 and 2 staff members are coaches and anyone who has direct contact with the players.

The NBA and its players union have recommended that all vaccinated players and other staff in close contact with players receive a booster dose “as soon as possible,” according to a November memo. The memo also noted that 26 of the 30 teams are competing in areas of Covid-19 transmission that are rated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “high.”

In a memo on Saturday, the NHL and its players’ union described “enhanced measures” that will be in place until at least January 7, including an all-weather mask requirement inside club facilities. of the NHL and on the go. The league is also restricting dining at indoor restaurants while teams are on the road unless they are seated in private areas.

Daily Covid-19 testing will be required for anyone traveling with an NHL club and others who are near players. There may also be additional pre-match “case-by-case” testing.

Wave shows pandemic is not over, experts say

Binney told CNN he believed the drop in immunity and a slight increase in contact over the Thanksgiving holiday potentially contributed to the recent breakouts, but he believed the potential surge would have “hit sooner and slower.” than the recent spike in professional sports leagues.

Alex Piquero, chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology at the University of Miami, told CNN “What we are seeing in the general population is what we are starting to see in some sports leagues.”

Recent increases in positive cases have forced cities to reinstate mandates and protocols unprecedented since the start of the year. On Wednesday, the U.S. average for daily Covid-19 cases – 119,888 – is 50% higher than it was a month ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

As a result, cities like New York are reimplementing interior mask mandates. And as of Wednesday, California has required masks in indoor public places for next month.
Philadelphia announced Monday that it will require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for admission to indoor restaurants, theaters and entertainment venues where food or drink is served.

Dr Scott Miscovich also attributed the ongoing struggles in professional sports in part to “waning immunity” and a lack of boosters.

Even though vaccination compliance in professional leagues is high, “we now have 50% immunity at best if you’ve had two injections,” said Miscovich, CEO of Premier Medical Group and medical director of Covid testing for the United States Olympic swimming, athletics and track and field. field, rugby and gymnastics.

“We don’t see a lot of leagues until we push the boosters,” he said, “that’s what was needed to get them to a point where they won’t get infected.”

“The second thing is, hey, it’s the holidays,” Miscovich said. “I’m sure people are coming together, and it’s going to spread.”

Piquero told CNN despite the mirage of potential normalcy, it’s important to remember that the pandemic is not over.

It is not yet clear whether Omicron is a milder variant.  But its rapid spread is sure to overwhelm hospitals, experts say

“People have to realize that people are still dying,” he said. “Imagine if you took the Cowboys Stadium, which can seat 100,000 people. It’s almost every one of their home games taking these people off the face of the earth… That’s what this pandemic is doing.”

With more athletes testing positive per day this week, the leagues began to cancel or postpone games on Monday.

The NHL and NBA announced postponements on Monday. NBA postponed two upcoming games for the Chicago Bulls due to an outbreak and the NHL announced it was postponing three Calgary Flames games because six players and one staff member entered Covid-19 protocol of the league.

Elsewhere in the NHL, the Montreal Canadiens announced Thursday that their home game against the Philadelphia Flyers will be played in an empty hall, with the announcement made less than two hours before the game.

“We have been assured that starting with our January games, we will return to a partial capacity scenario and will be able to welcome fans again,” the team statement said.

The Covid-19 upsets the sports calendar
The NFL made the decision to postpone three Week 15 games on Friday due to the arrival of 23 Cleveland Browns players on the League’s Covid-19 / Reserve roster in recent days. Saturday’s scheduled game between the Browns and the Las Vegas Raiders has been rescheduled to Monday at 5 p.m. ET.

The games scheduled for Sunday between the Washington football team and the Philadelphia Eagles and between the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams will both be rescheduled until Tuesday. Tuesday’s two games will begin at 7 p.m. ET.

As college football moves into bowl season and the NFL enters the playoffs, uncertainty looms over whether star athletes will be able to play live in front of fans.

“(Professional athletes) want to play, just like we want to watch them play and the fact that we’re still watching sports in the midst of a global pandemic is remarkable,” Piquero said. “But we have to be careful because teams start to lose games, players start to fall out. That’s what can cause things to shut down for a week or two, and that’s what the leagues are trying to do. to avoid.”

CNN’s Dakin Andone, Jill Martin, Kevin Dotson, David Close Naomi Thomas, Steve Almasy, Theresa Waldrop, Deidre McPhillips and Nadia Kounang contributed to this report.


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