NBA COVID-19 protocol update prohibits hotel guests, requires masks on bench

Jan. 13 (UPI) — The NBA and players union on Tuesday revised their COVID-19 protocol. Players now are prohibited from having non-team guests in their hotel rooms and will be required to wear masks while on the bench.

The revisions come as the league continues to have its schedule disrupted due to postponed games for teams that don’t have enough players to compete due to positive COVID-19 cases and contact tracing.

A league and union news release said the protocol was updated in response to “the surge of COVID-19 cases across the country and an uptick among NBA teams requiring player quarantines.”

New measures state that, for at least two weeks, players and team staff are required to remain at their residence (when the team is in its home city) at all times except to attend team activities at their team facility. Players and staff will be allowed to exercise outside or perform “essential activities.”

Players and staff also are now limited to “away-from-work interactions” with household members, family and personal staff members who work at their home regularly.

All meetings — for at least the next two weeks — that involve staff or players must continue to occur on the court, in a league-approved space or at the arena in a room large enough to provide at least 6 feet of distance between people.

Players also are prohibited from arriving at the arena more than three hours before the tip-off of a game. They will be limited to elbow and fist bumps when interacting with teammates or opponents during pre- and post-game periods.

Facemasks are now required for players on the bench, but not required when they use cool down chairs, which are arranged at least 12 feet from the bench with each chair 6 feet apart.

Players can use the chairs after they exit the game, but must return to an assigned seat on the bench after their cool-down period. Coaches and team staff must wear masks at all times during games.

Individuals who visit the interior of a residence for a player or team staff member for a professional purpose must be tested twice per week for COVID-19. The NBA may require players and staff to test twice per day for five consecutive days if their team has a positive player case or a high-risk staff member case.

The NBA announced a shortened 72-game schedule in November for the 2020-21 campaign. The first half of the season started on Dec. 22 and ends March 4. The second half is from March 11 to May 16.

The new season format follows a pandemic-disrupted 2019-20 season, which started in October 2019 and stopped in mid-March for four months before the league relocated 22 teams to Orlando, Fla., to finish the campaign at a bubble campus inside Walt Disney World Resort.

“Going into the bubble, we didn’t know what would necessarily happen or how it would play out, but we all made a commitment to take on responsibilities for health and safety protocols and extra vigilance,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters on Tuesday.

“That’s what is required now. The events of the last couple weeks have proven that we need to tighten it up and add more protocols.”

The league requires eight available players for teams to compete in games, but on Saturday Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers said his team only had seven players available due to COVID-19 issues.

“We don’t understand why we played that game,” Rivers told reporters. “I’m just a coach. I’m going to show up and do what they tell me to do.”

The 30-team league has postponed five games so far this week due to COVID-19-related issues. Eight games are scheduled on Wednesday night.

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