NHL mandates new COVID-19 rules in wake of positive tests and postponed games

St. Louis Blues

Ice is resurfaced just before the start of an NHL hockey game between the St. Louis Blues and the San Jose Sharks at Enterprise Center Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

ST. LOUIS, Mo- NHL fans will notice a few changes the next time they watch their favorite teams play and the cameras show the tight shots of team benches. The shielding behind team benches that usually separates fans from players has been ordered out by the league as part of a new round COVID-19 mitigation.

The series of moves come as the league has been forced to postpone games due to players and staff ending up in the NHL’s coronavirus protocols, either because of a positive test or potential exposures.

Removing the partitions behind team benches will help improve airflow, the NHL said in a statement Thursday. No one will be allowed to sit in that immediate area behind benches. In addition, players and coaches have been told not to arrive at the arena more than an hour and 45 minutes prior to the start of a given game, “except to receive necessary treatment or to engage in preparations in advance of the Game.” Virtual meetings are being encouraged, and players are being told to leave arenas after the game as quickly as they can.

Teams have until February 10 to submit plans that would create more locker room space to promote six feet of social distancing and the league may decide to put air cleaners behind bench areas to improve air quality and reduce viral transmission risks.

“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,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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.”

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