The NHL cut the mandatory isolation period down to five days for symptomatic players and team staff who test positive for COVID-19, according to a memo distributed Wednesday that was obtained by Daily Faceoff.
The NHL’s previous protocol called for a 10-day isolation period, but is now in line with new recommendations made by the U.S. Center for Disease Control earlier this week and similar to changes that resulted in the NBA and NFL.
Now, following five days of isolation that begin 24 hours after a positive test is received, a symptomatic player may exit isolation with either a negative lab-based PCR test, a positive test with a cycle threshold value over 30, or by virtue of two negative rapid antigen tests that are given more than two hours apart.
The player must also be fever-free by the fifth day in order to be eligible, and must wear a mask for five additional days after exiting isolation in all settings, except during practices and games.
While this will be welcomed news to U.S.-based teams, Wednesday’s protocol change only applies if also allowed by local health authorities.
For six of the seven clubs based in Canada, the isolation period remains at 10 days. British Columbia, home to the Vancouver Canucks, is the only provincial health authority that calls for a seven-day isolation period.
In other words: Wednesday’s new protocol guidelines set by the NHL give the league’s 25 American teams a significant advantage in how quickly symptomatic players may return to the ice.
However, that may not be the case for long. Ontario health officials canceled a scheduled Tuesday night briefing because they are reviewing the CDC’s latest guidelines and said they will hold a news conference later in the week, providing hope they might move regulations to be in lockstep with the U.S.
The rest of the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol remains unchanged to this point. Asymptomatic players and staff can exit the protocol with two consecutive negative tests taken at least 24 hours apart.
Daily testing is required for all players and team staff – which has turned up hundreds of positive cases in the last three weeks.
Two Montreal Canadiens players, Cayden Primeau and Paul Byron, entered the protocol on Wednesday. They traveled to Florida with the COVID-ravaged Habs for Tuesday night’s meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Montreal was forced to play with a lineup that included just 10 regulars but hung tough in a 4-3 overtime loss to the two-time defending champions. That Primeau and Byron entered the protocol after that game might indicate more positive tests could be on the way.
Perhaps the only silver lining at the moment, as the NHL continues to battle through the pandemic, is that players and staff who test positive for COVID-19 do not need to be tested again for 90 days. That means a significant portion of the league will not require testing for the next three months.
According to data tracked by Daily Faceoff, nearly 300 players – more than 40% of rosters – have entered the COVID-19 protocol since the beginning of the season.
The NHL has postponed 71 games so far this season due to COVID-19, with an additional nine games set for January in Canada postponed on Tuesday for revenue reasons as a result of arena capacity and concession restrictions.
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