With growing fears over the spread of COVID-19, more commonly known as the coronavirus, the NHL may close locker rooms to the media, according to several reports.
Starting today, @NHL will close dressing rooms to media, on recommendation of Centers for Disease Control (@CDCgov) in effort to stop the spread of coronavirus. NBA, MLB + MLS are expected to follow. Media availabilities will be conducted in formal press conference area.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) March 7, 2020
The move comes on the recommendation of the Center for Disease Control. All media availability would be conducted in press conference areas.
While initial reports were that this new policy was to start on Saturday, there have been conflicting reports on whether the NHL will actually follow through. Media members in attendance for the Pittsburgh Penguins - Washington Capitals game Saturday have reported the rooms are expected to be open after the game. Dave Isaac of Courier Post also reports the Philadelphia Flyers have been told by the league has told them locker room are to remain open until further notice.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told the Associated Press on Saturday that he wouldn't be surprised if that's the decision made - temporarily.
"We're focused on the fact that the tightness, the crowdedness and the intimacy of postgame availability may need to be adjusted while we're focusing on the coronavirus," he said according to the AP.
If the NHL follows through, it stands to be the first major professional sports league in North America to mandate league-wide preventative measures to combat the spread of coronavirus. Other leagues are expected to follow suit. The Athletic's Shams Charania first reported the NBA is discussing limiting locker room access only to players and team personnel.
"In consultation with infectious disease and public health experts, we're discussing with other sports leagues options to protect the health of everyone in our buildings, including those typically in our locker rooms," NBA spokesman Mike Bass said in a statement on Saturday. "As always, we're committed to providing appropriate media access."
When it comes to preventing diseases, a locker room is about the worst place you can be given the sweaty equipment and close proximity of the players. Those conditions led to the quick spread of the mumps infection through the league in 2017.
But does closing the locker room go far enough?
In California, Santa Clara County has recommended that all large events, including sports games, be canceled. So far, the San Jose Sharks and the NHL have resisted such calls to cancel games. With the playoffs just a month away, the continued spread of the virus has the potential to significantly impact the league's postseason.
Also on Saturday, it was announced that the IIHF and Hockey Canada had decided to cancel the 2020 Women's World Hockey Championship scheduled for later in March in Nova Scotia. In Switzerland, games have been played without fans and the country's top two leagues have postponed their playoffs.
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