DENVER (AP) – US sports leagues see rapid increase in COVID-19 outbreaks with dozens of players in health and safety protocols, amid continued increase in the delta variant of the coronavirus and increasing cases highly transmissible omicron mutation.
The NBA and NHL have had to postpone games over the past month with so many players sidelined, and the Tulane and University of Washington men’s basketball teams have seen cancellations due to epidemics in their programs. The NFL won’t postpone games, saying forfeits could be at stake instead.
The difficulties for American sport follow the spike in infections in Europe, where English Premier League officials have canceled three football games in four days due to the virus and the German government has temporarily restricted Bundesliga arenas to 50 % attendance or 15,000 fans.
But don’t expect the American leagues to return to the âbubbleâ game or stop for a few weeks to let things calm down.
âThe way our system is set up right now, an infection sets off a chain of events and that leads to confusion, disruption, chaos. But from a medical point of view, these people are mostly vaccinated and do not go to the hospital, âsaid Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California at San Francisco.
âWe are in a very different world from a year ago. â¦ It’s not so bad for healthy young athletes, âadded Chin-Hong.
And there are too many financial stakes for the leagues to consider shutdowns, given the millions upon millions of dollars lost when the sport took a hiatus last year. There is also the pressure from the fans to take into account.
âThe short answer is money. This is what drives the decisions (of the leagues) to keep playing, even in the face of these epidemics, âsaid Nola Agha, professor of sports management at the University of San Francisco.
âI don’t think they will reduce the number of fans or shut down the whole season,â she continued. “I think they will continue to do their best within the guidelines of the local health department, which could reduce the number of fans.”
On Wednesday, in Canada, the country’s largest province, Ontario – home to the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs and the NHL’s Ottawa Senators – set a cap of 50% of the capacity for large gatherings such as professional sporting events.
So far, the NHL has had the most postponed games for a league in North America this season, with 10. The Senators finished first in mid-November, followed by the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes this season. week. On Wednesday alone, the Nashville Predators added six players and six staff to health and safety protocols, and Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron also came in.
The omicron variant is primarily responsible for the rise in NHL cases, according to a person with direct knowledge of discussions between the league and the NHL Players Association, but it does not account for all positive tests. The person spoke on condition of anonymity as the interviews were private.
The person also said the NHL is reintroducing improved COVID-19 protocols, including restricting players to their hotels when they are on the road and bringing back daily testing until at least January 7.
Interim coach Derek King of the Chicago Blackhawks, who were scheduled to play against the Flames this week, said the team had reinforced with players the importance of social distancing, hygiene and avoiding crowds. .
âJust really falling apart, because we don’t want to be one of those teams that has to rearrange their schedules because we have COVID,â King said.
The NBA also has several stars in COVID-19 protocols right now, including Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks and James Harden of the Brooklyn Nets. As of Wednesday afternoon, 33 players – about 6.5% of the league – were in protocols, with 17 playing for Chicago or Brooklyn.
The Bulls had games rescheduled Tuesday and Thursday because they didn’t have enough players available, while Brooklyn played with a roster of at least eight NBA players on Tuesday.
That same night, when Golden State Warriors goalie Stephen Curry set a career three-point record at Madison Square Garden in New York City, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was not in the audience. He and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum underwent daily testing after attending an event hosted by Toronto President Masai Ujiri, who tested positive shortly thereafter.
“Like the rest of the country, and as our infectious disease specialists predicted, we have seen an increase in cases in the league,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said on Wednesday, adding that the league would continue. to be guided by science and data. and cooperate with the Players’ Association.
According to the NBA, 97% of players are vaccinated and just over 60% have received boosters.
University of Michigan health director Preeti Malani, infectious disease expert and member of two Big Ten COVID-19 advisory committees, said boosters will be “essential” to avoid schedule interruptions.
âThe greatest thing we can do, whether in sports, at school or in the workplace, is to be highly immunized. â¦ It means getting boosted on top of the series primary, âsaid Malani.
The NFL may be lucky that most of its games are played away, so there is less risk to fans.
But the league is experiencing its worst outbreak in terms of players on the reserve / COVID roster: Eighty-eight tested positive Monday and Tuesday, and several more were added on Wednesday, including eight on the Washington football team. . The LA Rams have 16 on the list.
That’s a small percentage for a league with around 2,200 players between active rosters, injured reserves and practice teams. But omicron could increase that quickly.
New York Giants coach Joe Judge said his players now wore masks indoors and were more spaced out in meetings.
âAnyone who has been involved in close contact or testing at this point has either been removed or separated from the team, and they are participating in virtual meetings,â Judge said.
The NFL Players Association has sounded the alarm for months about the league’s move from daily to weekly testing, hampering detection of outbreaks.
Chin-Hong of UCSF said they were right to be concerned and that the NFL should rethink the policy.
â(Test) once a week so it’s 2020,â he said. âWe have the technology to do it multiple times a day. “
At the college level, there have been other cancellations besides those involving Tulane and Washington: Cleveland State men’s basketball; Iowa women’s basketball; and a postponed Cal Bears football game.
The American Athletic Conference, the Pac-12, the Southeastern Conference and the Big East have all told AP their policies have not changed since the start of the school year: teams unable to play in conference games will lose. . ___
Associated Press sports editors Tim Reynolds, John Wawrow, Jay Cohen, Ralph Russo and Tom Canavan contributed to this report.
Suggest a correction