Wednesday afternoon saw the NHL’s ‘COVID Protocol Related Absences’ list once again expand with several new names added to the list. Subsequently, the Minnesota Wild were required to shutter operations for at least a week. As a result, the NHL has decided to step-up their protective measures and implement four modifications to it’s in-arena protocols.
The new protocols are aimed at reducing the overall potential exposure for players and team staff. The NHL announced the changes in a statement released Thursday afternoon.
The @NHL announced today a series of additional COVID-19 preventative measures, which all Clubs must implement beginning with today’s games.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 4, 2021
First change, the removal of all glass behind team benches. The league is worried about air flow in the bench areas, where contact is closest and lengthiest during games. The NHL isn’t waiting on that directive, asking it to be done in time for Thursday’s games.
No glass behind the benches anymore at the United Center. The NHL believes this will improve air flow and reduce COVID transmission. pic.twitter.com/6T27y47pEg
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) February 4, 2021
Second, players and coaches are no longer permitted to arrive at the arena no earlier than one hour and 45 minutes before puck drop. (The exception is for receiving necessary treatment of injuries.) All meetings — whether game day or not — should be virtually conducted.
Additionally, according to Sportsnet, teams are being asked to utilize (or create) additional locker room space for themselves and their opponents, with the league looking to have at least six feet between players at each of their stalls. Teams have one week to communicate their plans for accomplishing this. (If necessary, portable stalls can be provided to teams.)
Finally, the NHL indicated it is considering asking teams to deploy portable air cleaners behind the benches, “in order to improve indoor air quality and mitigate airborne viral transmission.” These cleaners would use HEPA filters, which Consumers Reports magazine states “results in reductions of 50 per cent or higher in particulate matter.”
The NHL releases their official “COVID Protocol Related Absences” list each day at 5:00 p.m.. Wednesday’s list included the addition of six players from the Minnesota Wild and the inclusion of additional players from the New Jersey Devils.
We should see these proposed changes to in-arena protocols beginning tonight.
On Thursday afternoon the Buffalo Sabres announced that their head coach Ralph Krueger had tested positive for COVID-19.
An update from the Sabres organization: pic.twitter.com/6r7srLO6dT
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 4, 2021
MORE FROM THE NHL
NEW YORK (Feb. 4, 2021) — In order to continue to mitigate the risk of incidences of exposure and contraction of COVID-19 when Players and other Club Personnel are at, and interacting in, the Game Arena, the NHL announced today a series of additional COVID-19 preventative measures.
“With about 20 percent of our season played, we are mindful of the fact that we might be seeing a more aggressive transmission of the virus and will continue to make adjustments to our Protocols as we consult on a daily basis with, and adhere to, the recommendations of our medical advisors,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “It is important to note that, while we have seen almost 100 players enter our COVID Protocols, fewer than half have done so because of confirmed positive tests – and, among that group, many have not been symptomatic. Our priority has been and will continue to be to act conservatively with an abundance of caution, understanding that there are many things about the transmission of COVID-19 that are still being discovered. As a result, we won’t hesitate to take additional measures as indicated by what we are learning and as directed by our medical advisers.”
Beginning with today’s games, all Clubs must implement the following:
Removal of Shielding Behind the Bench: To allow for air flow to more easily move away from the benches where Players and Coaches are in close proximity to one another during games, effective today, Clubs/Arenas will remove the partitions of shielding that are behind the home and visiting team benches.
Once this shielding has been removed, the seating area in the section(s) behind the benches on the lower level may not be occupied by anyone (e.g., fans, Club medical personnel, mascots). Any Club medical personnel who were sitting in those section(s) shall be relocated to sections adjacent to the ones located behind the Player benches.
Limitation of Time at the Game Arena: In order to minimize (to the extent practical) the period of time for possible exposure and transmission of COVID-19 while Players are gathered at the arena, effective today, Players and Coaching staff are being advised, whenever practicable, to arrive at the Game arena no more than 1 hour and 45 minutes before puck drop, except to receive necessary treatment or to engage in preparations in advance of the Game. On game days (and non-game days), meetings shall be conducted virtually, to the greatest extent possible. Further, Players should leave the arena as expeditiously as possible after the conclusion of each game.
Physical Distancing in Team Spaces: In order to reduce to the extent possible the number of Players in a room at the same time, each Club shall take steps to utilize (or create where necessary) additional locker room space for the home and visiting teams, such that physical distancing of a least six (6) feet between players at each of their stalls is accomplished. Each Club shall communicate its specific plans to the League in this regard, by no later than Wednesday, February 10. The League will provide information regarding portable locker room stalls to Clubs that will be building out new space to meet this requirement.
Air Filtration and Air Cleaning: The League is considering adoption of a requirement for Clubs/Arenas to deploy portable air cleaners with HEPA behind the Player bench areas, in order to improve indoor air quality and mitigate airborne viral transmission. The League will send a further communication to Clubs/arenas once it has specific requirements in this regard.
“As we continue to learn about the nature and transmission of COVID-19, we are trying to identify the relevant aspects of our game that are either unique or common among other sports and adjust our Protocols accordingly,” said Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, NHL Chief Medical Officer. “We will continue to analyze all of these factors and the related medical data will continue to drive all of our decisions.”
The League will continue to explore additional preventative, and detective measures, and will communicate to Clubs any further requirements in this regard to ensure the safety of all Players, Club and Arena Personnel and our fans.
The Capitals are in New York City for their single game against the Rangers tonight. They will return home following the game and next host a two-game set with the Flyers beginning Sunday. Puck drop tonight in the Big Apple is set for 7:00 p.m.
By Jon Sorensen