Look, I’m not here to discuss the moral level that the NHL is pushing so hard to finish the 2019-20 campaign. And they and the players are counting on feedback from some of the world’s best experts to put their return-to-play protocol in place. Truth be told, I’m still not sure they can do it. But what I do know is that the league has been working with the NHL Players’ Association like never before, asking the right people the right questions and doing their homework.
It is not the equivalent of the president of one of the superpowers of the world who strikes the golf course when the balance sheet of his country because of COVID-19 approaches 100,000. Nor is it the equivalent to thousands of people in Canada’s largest city who flock to a public park and stand up. If you want to scold the NHL for insisting on going ahead, that’s right. But what the league and the players cannot be accused of is doing it at all costs and doing it willy-nilly in the face of science. Phase 2 of the return to play protocol, which was rolled out by the league on Monday, is a clear example.
Whether it’s insisting that supplements be available in single-distribution packages or having two boxes of tissues attached to each end of each player’s bench, the NHL and its players have not overlooked stones. The Phase 2 Protocol is a 21-page document that covers all aspects of the NHL player fitness process. Does this necessarily mean that it can do so without any repercussions related to COVID-19? Of course not. This is something the league recognizes in the first paragraph on the first page. “This protocol, although very comprehensive, cannot mitigate all the risks”, specifies the protocol. “There are a variety of clinical scenarios, from very mild to fatal.” He added that the virus generally affects older age groups and those with existing medical conditions, but acknowledges that players may have someone in their household in a vulnerable category. This is why phase 2 is voluntary.
The league hopes to move to phase 2 next week and this will involve training in small groups, a maximum of six players per session without coaches on the ice. Each player participating in phase 2 will be tested 48 hours before arriving at the training center and twice a week thereafter. Subject to scheduling and availability, players will have access to team facilities in the cities in which they reside if they have not left their hometown. And the league has ensured that everything is done in accordance with all levels of health authorities. There is a framework to do it safely and every possible scenario has been thought of, with the flexibility to apply it locally. You can make it work for almost any training environment.
It’s not perfect, but in an age where we still don’t have a vaccine, there will always be uncertainty and risk. And if you want to have NHL hockey during this interim period, it’s about as safe as it is going to be for players and team staff. The attention to detail is impressive and the large-scale problems have been appreciated. Perhaps most telling of the protocol is the fact that not all training facilities will be the same, so there is flexibility within the protocol to adapt to the local environment. The league has also ensured that it does not exhaust public resources, particularly with regard to testing.
“He’s so addicted to the area right now,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital. “If you are asking this question now,” Can anyone take a test twice a week? “The answer would be:” Maybe in some places, but certainly not all. But ask the same question in a week, two weeks, three weeks and you will see huge growth in testing capacity across the board. It is considerably expanded all over North America. Having a semblance of a return to normal will depend on many different factors, one of which is access to diagnostic tests. It’s really one of the pillars of epidemic management. “
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