The Tampa Bay Lightning have temporarily shut down their Phase 2 workouts after multiple members of the organization tested positive for coronavirus.
Others who have been in team facilities for small-group workouts are being tested, and the results will determine how the Lightning and NHL move forward.
Additional testing will also be conducted in case of false-positive or false-negative results.
The number of COVID-19 cases in Florida has surged in recent days and also forced the closure of the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring training facility in Dunedin and the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training facility in Clearwater — both about an hour down the causeway from the Lightning’s home base.
Phase 2 of the NHL’s return-to-play protocol is voluntary and allows no more than six players in a team facility at any one time. Players are required to wear masks when they’re not exercising and are limited to non-contact drills during the on-ice sessions.
Staff and players are also subjected to daily temperature checks and twice-weekly nasal swab tests, but don’t otherwise have any limitations placed on their movements away from the facility.
The NHL and NHL Players’ Association are currently working to finalize the health and safety protocols for Phase 3 (training camps) and Phase 4 (competition), with an eye toward trying to open camps July 10. Testing will be done more frequently in each of those phases and a tightly-controlled bubble is expected to surround the planned 24-team return in two hub cities this summer.
With players starting to travel back to their playing cities in greater numbers and more testing are being conducted, positive results were expected. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN during an interview this week that he doesn’t expect the competition phase to be interrupted in the event multiple players test positive for coronavirus.
“Obviously for any sport, if you have a major outbreak, it’s going to change everything,” Bettman said. “But we’re being told that an isolated case, or a couple of isolated cases,
shouldn’t interfere with the plans, and we should be able to move forward.”
There have also been reports of positive tests involving NHL players currently in Arizona, which is another COVID-19 hotspot.
None of these have been confirmed by the league. On Thursday, the NHL circulated a memo to teams informing them that it would handle the announcement of positive tests moving forward.