After an extremely challenging day where five teams added more players to their COVID-Related Absences List and the Minnesota Wild were shut down until Feb. 9, the NHL made four changes to its in-arena protocols in an effort to slow the spread of the virus.
The most noticeable to everyone watching will be the removal of all glass behind team benches. Clearly, the league is worried about air flow in that area, where contact is closest and lengthiest during games. The NHL isn’t waiting on that directive, asking it to be done in time for Thursday’s games.
“With about 20 percent of our season played, we are mindful of the fact that we might be seeing a more aggressive transmission of the virus and will continue to make adjustments to our Protocols as we consult on a daily basis with, and adhere to, the recommendations of our medical advisors,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “It is important to note that, while we have seen almost 100 players enter our COVID Protocols, fewer than half have done so because of confirmed positive tests -- and, among that group, many have not been symptomatic.
"Our priority has been and will continue to be to act conservatively with an abundance of caution, understanding that there are many things about the transmission of COVID-19 that are still being discovered. As a result, we won’t hesitate to take additional measures as indicated by what we are learning and as directed by our medical advisers.”
• The NHL indicated it is considering asking teams to deploy portable air cleaners behind the benches, “in order to improve indoor air quality and mitigate airborne viral transmission.” These cleaners would use HEPA filters, which Consumers Reports magazine states “results in reductions of 50 per cent or higher in particulate matter.”
• Players and coaches are no longer permitted to arrive at the arena more than one hour and 45 minutes before puck drop. (The exception is for receiving necessary treatment of injuries.) All meetings — whether game day or not — should be virtually conducted.
• Teams are being asked to utilize (or create) additional locker room space for themselves and their opponents, with the league looking to have at least six feet between players at each of their stalls. Teams have one week to communicate their plans for accomplishing this. (If necessary, portable stalls can be provided to teams.)
There is nothing yet about adding a second daily test — a rapid test — before games. All players are given a PCR test every morning. It is the most accurate and reliable of all COVID tests, but it takes longer to receive results. There are more and more calls behind the scenes to add them, but, to this point, they aren’t mandated.