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New NBA coronavirus protocols: No more hotel guests

NBA player JaVale McGee at hotel

ORLANDO, FL - SEPTEMBER 24: JaVale McGee #7 of the Los Angeles Lakers leaves the hotel during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs on September 24, 2020 at AdventHealth Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA’s bubble at Disney World worked for one reason: People who regularly tested negative for coronavirus and people who didn’t regularly test negative for coronavirus were prohibited from having close contact with each other.

The league will attempt to recreate that separation outside Disney World.

NBA release:
The National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) today announced an agreement on additional measures to supplement the current Health and Safety Protocols governing the 2020-21 season.
In response to the surge of COVID-19 cases across the country and an uptick among NBA teams requiring potential player quarantines, the following measures will take effect immediately:

  • Activities Outside the Team Environment: For at least the next two weeks, players and team staff are required to remain at their residence (when the team is in its home market) at all times except to attend team-related activities at the team facility or arena, exercise outside, or perform essential activities, or as a result of extraordinary circumstances. Away-from-work interactions are limited to those with household members, family and any personal staff working regularly in the home. When on the road, players and team staff are prohibited from leaving their hotel (other than for team activities or emergencies) or interacting with non-team guests at the hotel.

  • Meetings: For at least the next two weeks, any pre-game meeting in the locker room is limited to no more than 10 minutes in duration and all attendees must wear a facemask. All other meetings involving players and team staff must continue to occur on the court, in a league-approved space, or at the arena in a room large enough to provide for at least 6 feet of distance between individuals. Meeting attendees must continue to wear facemasks at all times.

  • On the Road: For team flights, teams must create a seating plan on planes so that players whose assigned seats are closest to each other on the bench for games are also closest to each other on the team plane. All treatment sessions at a hotel, such as massages and physical therapy, must occur in a ballroom or other large open space, with at least 12 feet between individual stations. Facemasks and face shields are required for all individuals during such sessions.

  • Game Day: Players are prohibited from arriving at the arena more than three hours before tip-off. During the pre- and post-game periods, players must limit interactions to elbow or fist bumps, avoid extended socializing and maintain 6 feet of distance as much as possible.

  • Facemasks: All players must wear facemasks on the bench at all times. Upon exiting the game, and prior to returning to the bench, players can sit in “cool down chairs,” arranged at least 12 feet from the bench with each chair 6 feet apart, where facemasks are not required. Once a player has cooled down, he must return to his assigned seat on the bench and wear a facemask until he enters the game again. Players must always wear facemasks in the locker room, during strength and conditioning activities and when traveling with anyone other than a household member. Coaches and other team staff must wear facemasks at all times during games.

  • Testing: Any individual who regularly visits the interior of the home of a player or team staff member for a professional purpose must undergo COVID-19 testing twice per week. For any team with a positive player case or high-risk staff member case, the NBA may require players and team staff to undergo five consecutive days of twice-per-day, lab-based testing, in addition to daily point-of-care testing.

The league’s Health and Safety Protocols may be additionally amended during the season as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

These new protocols are far more restrictive than the initially leaked details. The big new rules: Aside from team team activities, players must stay home with limited visitors when the team is at home and must stay in their hotel – with no outside guests – when the team is on the road. That should significantly curtail players’ interactions with untested people.

If the protocols are followed.

Monitoring players for violations could be difficult. Nobody wants their privacy invaded. We’ll see how the league and teams enforce these rules. Surveillance was easier at Disney World.

The updated protocols about how players interact with each other are less consequential. Players are still tested frequently and playing 5-on-5 basketball with each other. Not high-fiving won’t mean much.

The NBA clearly hit a breaking point as the number of players who tested positive or got sidelined by contact tracing increased. These new protocols could reverse that trend. But outside the bubble at Disney World, the league has far less control of the situation.