NHL adds rapid testing, requires players to curtail outside activities under latest COVID-19 protocols

The NHL is adding game-day rapid tests for players to its safety protocols in its latest bid to stem potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

Rapid tests provide results within a half-hour, and will augment daily PCR testing already in place, which is similar to the protocols the NBA introduced this season. PCR tests are considered to be more accurate, but there’s a 12- to 24-hour turnaround on results.

The league also said that players and club personnel are required to stay at home “and not leave their place of residence except to attend practices and games, to exercise outdoors on an individual basis, to perform essential activities (e.g., go to the doctor), or to deal with family or other emergencies and other extraordinary circumstances.”

It recommended that family members limit their discretionary activities outside the home.

The decision on rapid tests comes two days after Vegas Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek tested positive but was not quarantined until after playing the first two periods of a 5-4 win against the Anaheim Ducks. And it comes on the same day the league delayed the start of Edmonton’s game at Montreal by an hour to provide additional time to complete contact tracing and test results after Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi was placed on the COVID-19 list.

Employees disinfect the visitors bench at the Bell Centre after Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi was placed in COVID-19 protocol before the game against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Oilers became the first of the league’s seven Canadian team to encounter a virus-related disturbance a little under a month into the season. Otherwise, the 35 postponed games have all involved teams in the three U.S.-based divisions in place for this season.

Golden Knights forward Mark Stone welcomed the NHL’s decision to add rapid testing.

“I think now with the rapid testing getting in place is going to help,” Stone said. “We’re to know more before the games, which is ultimately what we want.”

The NHL currently has paused the seasons of four teams: the Buffalo Sabres, Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, though others have also been idled.

The Wild were cleared to resume practicing Friday following a 10-day pause. The Wild still have 12 players on the COVID list after forward Marcus Foligno was removed on Thursday.

At least 11 of the NHL’s 31 teams are affected, with 54 players on the COVID-19 list, led by the Devils with 18. The Calgary Flames are listed as TBA for reasons that are unclear.

New Jersey forwards Kyle Palmieri and Pavel Zacha were both added to the list a day after being removed, while Devils rookie Yegor Sharangovich is no longer listed.

The Flyers now have five players on the list, following the additions of Jakub Voracek and Morgan Frost. Also added to the COVID-19 list were Florida’s Anthony Duclair and New York Rangers Filip Chytil.

The NHL upgraded its safety protocols last week, too. It had teams remove glass panels from behind each bench for better air flow, while also spacing players at least 6 feet apart in their locker rooms. Teams were also told not to show up at arenas until one hour, 45 minutes before faceoff unless players need pregame treatment or preparation.

Stone said the first month of the season has been a learning experience given the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

“I think you’re a little bit naive to think we were going to go through the whole season without one guy testing positive,” Stone said. “I think everybody’s kind of learning as we go.”

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