Sports leagues in the United States are experiencing a rapid increase in the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus with dozens of players on health and safety protocols, amid a continuous increase in the delta variant of the coronavirus and high cases of the Omicron mutation.
Both the NBA and the NHL had to postpone games last month due to the large number of sidelined players, and the Tulane and University of Washington men’s basketball teams saw games canceled due to outbreaks in their programs. The NFL doesn’t want games to be postponed, but says they could be cancelled.
The difficulties facing American sport come after an increase in infections in Europe, where Premier League officials suspended three football matches in four days due to the virus and the German government temporarily restricted attendance in Bundesliga stadiums to 50% or 15,000. fans.
But don’t expect the US Championships to play a “bubble” again or take a two-week pause to let things calm down.
“Because our system is now set up, infection triggers a chain of events that leads to confusion, disruption, and chaos. But medically speaking, these people are vaccinated and they won’t end up going,” said Dr. Peter Chen Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. in the hospital”.
“We are in a completely different world than it was a year ago. Qin Hong added…
And the financial stakes are too great for the leagues to even consider closing them, considering the millions upon millions of dollars lost when the sport came to a halt last year. You also have to consider the pressure of the crowd.
“In short, it’s money that drives (the leagues) decisions to continue playing, even in the face of these outbreaks,” said Nola Agha, professor of sports management at the University of San Francisco.
“I don’t think they will reduce the number of fans or close the whole season,” he added. “I think they will continue to do their best within the guidelines of the local health department.”
In Canada on Wednesday, Ontario, the country’s largest province — home to the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators — set a 50% capacity for large gatherings such as professional sporting events.
So far, the National Hockey League is the league that has postponed the most games this season in North America, with the Senators in first place in mid-November, followed by the Calgary Flames and the Carolina Hurricanes this week. On Wednesday alone, the Nashville Predators added six players and six staff members to health and safety protocols, as did Boston Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron.
The Omicron variant is primarily responsible for the increase in cases in the NHL, according to someone with direct knowledge of discussions between the league and the NHL Players Association, but not all positive tests. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the conversations were private.
The person also said the NHL is reintroducing improved COVID-19 protocols, including requiring players to stay in their hotels while traveling and retesting daily until at least January 7.
Interim coach Derek King of the Chicago Blackhawks, who was due to play for the Flames this week, said the team is underpinning the players the importance of social distancing, hygiene, and avoiding crowds.
“You just have to follow the instructions, because we don’t want to be one of those teams who have to rearrange their schedule because we have COVID,” King said.
The NBA also has several stars in COVID-19 protocols at this time, 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, and 17 of them were playing in Chicago or Brooklyn.
The Bulls’ games on Tuesday and Thursday have been postponed due to not having enough players, while Brooklyn played with the NBA’s minimum eight roster on Tuesday.
That same night, when Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry broke a career record three times at Madison Square Garden in New York, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wasn’t in the crowd: He and Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum had daily tests yet. their presence. An event hosted by Toronto President Masai Ujiri, who tested positive soon after.
“Like the rest of the country, and as our infectious disease experts have predicted, we’ve seen an increase in cases across the league,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass said on Wednesday, adding that the league will continue to lead through science and data and will collaborate with the players’ union. .
The National Basketball Association states that 97% of players have been vaccinated and just over 60% have received booster shots.
Preti Malaney, director of health at the University of Michigan, an infectious disease expert and member of two Big Ten COVID-19 advisory committees, said reinforcements would be “necessary” to avoid calendar disruptions.
“The most important thing we can do, whether in sports, at school or in the workplace, is get vaccinated,” Malani said.
The NFL is lucky because most of its games are played outdoors, so the risk to fans is less.
But the league is seeing its worst outbreak in terms of reserve/COVID roster players: Eighty-eight more tested positive on Monday and Tuesday, with many joining on Wednesday, including eight from the Washington soccer team. The Los Angeles Rams have 16 on the list.
This is a small percentage for a league of about 2,200 players between active rosters, injured reserves and training rosters. But the Omicron variant can cause it to intensify quickly.
New York Giants coach Joe Judge said his players now wear masks indoors and distance themselves at meetings.
“Anyone who has been involved in any kind of close contact or testing at this point has been removed or separated from the team, and they are in virtual meetings,” the judge said.
The NFL Players Association has been sounding alarms for months about the league’s shift from daily testing to weekly testing, making outbreaks difficult to detect.
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