The amended protocol will grant playoff-linked players greater freedoms when it comes to masks, testing, team meetings, social gatherings and travel – once 85% of a team’s travelers are fully vaccinated.
The NHL considers a person to be fully vaccinated after two weeks have passed since receiving the final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine.
The changes came less than three weeks after the Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Robin Lehner criticized the league, saying “we are vaccinated and we are still in jail.”
“At some point we need to start looking at the mental health of the people around us,” Lehner said on April 21. “Not just the NHL, but everyone in society, and see how we can start to get back to normal. Because the problem is going to be huge. “
The relaxed protocols are good news not only for Lehner, but also for the 12 NHL teams based in the United States, many of whom have already reached the 85% vaccination threshold for their group of travelers, which includes players, coaches and team staff.
But with slower vaccination rates and limited availability in Canada, the belief is that none of the four Canadian clubs heading to the playoffs are coming close to that mark.
Players from all seven Canadian teams have started receiving their first dose as the age parameters for vaccination have changed rapidly across the country. But the NHL has been careful not to let any of its players or teams skip the line governed by regional and provincial protocols.
Even though some players on Canadian teams have received their first dose, which increases the effectiveness of protection against COVID-19, it will likely take months for these people to receive their second dose – making the loosening of these restrictions very unlikely for Canadian clubs.
Here are the notable changes to the NHL protocol:
> Almost all of the accommodation below is designed for “fully vaccinated people”. As the NHL and its 31 clubs have not made the vaccine mandatory, it is believed that there are one to two players per team – in many cases – who have chosen not to receive the vaccine. Any travel party member who has chosen not to receive the vaccine must continue to adhere to all previous (and strict) preventive measures that were in place in the previous COVID-19 protocol.
> Fully vaccinated people can now socialize in groups of up to eight people, now including for the first time other people who are not part of a club’s travel group – such as friends and family, to provided that each person in the group has also been fully immunized. Face covers and social distancing are not necessary during these gatherings. Gatherings can take place indoors or outdoors.
> Masks are no longer required in non-public areas of play arenas and training facilities for fully vaccinated people.
> Team meetings and social gatherings can resume without covering their faces and without social distancing requirements for vaccinated people, but they should be far enough away from unvaccinated people.
> Fully vaccinated players will no longer need to be tested by PCR on days off. Likewise, fully vaccinated players will no longer need a rapid test, unless that player did not have a PCR test the day before.
> Fully vaccinated people will now be allowed in the hotel rooms of other fully vaccinated people.
> Fully vaccinated people will now be allowed to eat on flights and buses.
> Fully vaccinated people can now eat and drink in restaurants with outdoor meals.
> Fully vaccinated people can congregate indoors for dinner, without the requirement for masking or social distancing, if a separate section of the restaurant is designated and secured from the rest of the guests (e.g., a private or reserved room) as long as ‘they are served by a masked employee of the restaurant.
> Fully vaccinated people can play golf in groups and also use the saunas and steam rooms at the club facilities with other fully vaccinated people.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli