The NHL and Players’ Association have yet to finalize their return-to-play agreement, but the presumptive deal sets players to arrive in hub cities for competitive play in less than a month. While players will be quarantined during their time in the hubs, they are unrestricted right now, charged with managing their own exposure risk until hub-play begins, per Stephen Whyno of the Associated Press.
With no quarantine for training camps, players carry the hefty responsibility of policing themselves. The plan, more or less, is for players to simply stay home when they’re not skating. Whyno provides a quote from Carolinas Medical Center medical director of infection prevention Katie Passaretti, who adds the proper gravitas to the situation. Said Passaretti:
“You have a whole bunch of people in close proximity to each other for prolonged periods of time, they may be traveling together exposed to other individuals that you don’t know who they’ve been exposed to. Any time you’re bringing groups together and then sending them back out into the world, there’s potential for further spread if one of those individuals was asymptotically infected or early in the stages of symptomatic infection.”
Concern for player safety is well-caused, especially as coronavirus cases rise approaching the July 10 opening date for training camps. Whether defined as the much-anticipated second wave or “hot spots,” the numbers have to be concerning to players and their families. Florida experienced a new single-day high of coronavirus just today with over 8,942 confirmed cases, per Ben Conarck and Daniel Chang of the Miami Herald. Nearly a quarter of Florida’s confirmed have been newly reported in the last week, a disconcerting sign for a state that’s seen more than 3,400 deaths.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear where these health concerns fall in the hierarchy of criteria for selecting hub cities for postseason play. Vancouver Minister of Health Adrian Dix was personally disappointed the NHL couldn’t find its way to British Columbia, per Patrick Johnston of The Province. Dix said, “Vancouver — and anybody who’s paying any attention at all knows this — is the best possible place for them to come. Because we enforce public health rules in British Columbia thoroughly and completely. This is the reason to come.”
Ontario – still in the running – had a record low number of confirmed cases combined with a record-high number of tests, per Rob Ferguson of the Toronto Star. That’s certainly good news, but Ontario is also continuing to let asymptomatic workers return to their offices, tweets Richard Zussman of Global BC. The exact protocols for what happens when a player or staff member does test positive remains at issue in finalizing the hub locations.
Stateside, there were a record number of COVID-19 cases on Wednesday (34,500 cases), per Whyno. There’s even some concern that a Nevada strain of the coronavirus is spreading more rapidly than others, per Mary Hynes of the Las Vegas Journal-Review, though there’s still significant debate over the veracity of those claims. With Vegas expected to win one of the hub awards, the conditions in and around the city are surely being tracked closely by NHL officials. According to the New York Times coronavirus tracker, cases in Nevada are on the rise with 483 new cases on Tuesday marking a single-day high.
All in all, there’s clearly a ton of information for the NHL and NHLPA to process – and that’s not likely to change even after the hub locations are finalized. It’s not surprising the announcement was delayed from Monday, the original decision date. Still, with the July 10 training camp date looming and competitive play not much further off, the league is staring down a crucial 24-48 hours of decision-making.