The NBA and NBPA announced new COVID-19 protocols as cases rise across the league less than one month into the new regular season.
The new protocols focus on keeping players distanced from each other as much as possible when not on the court and limiting player movement when not participating in team activities.
The following protocols, as spelled out in a statement from the league and union, will go into effect immediately:
• Activities Outside the Team Environment: For at least the next two weeks, players and team staff are required to remain at their residence (when the team is in its home market) at all times except to attend team-related activities at the team facility or arena, exercise outside, or perform essential activities, or as a result of extraordinary circumstances. Away-from-work interactions are limited to those with household members, family and any personal staff working regularly in the home. When on the road, players and team staff are prohibited from leaving their hotel (other than for team activities or emergencies) or interacting with non-team guests at the hotel.
• Meetings: For at least the next two weeks, any pre-game meeting in the locker room is limited to no more than 10 minutes in duration and all attendees must wear a facemask. All other meetings involving players and team staff must continue to occur on the court, in a league-approved space, or at the arena in a room large enough to provide for at least six feet of distance between individuals. Meeting attendees must continue to wear facemasks at all times.
• On the Road: For team flights, teams must create a seating plan on planes so that players whose assigned seats are closest to each other on the bench for games are also closest to each other on the team plane. All treatment sessions at a hotel, such as massages and physical therapy, must occur in a ballroom or other large open space, with at least 12 feet between individual stations. Facemasks and face shields are required for all individuals during such sessions.
• Game Day: Players are prohibited from arriving at the arena more than three hours before tip-off. During the pre- and post-game periods, players must limit interactions to elbow or fist bumps, avoid extended socializing and maintain six feet of distance as much as possible.
• Facemasks: All players must wear facemasks on the bench at all times. Upon exiting the game, and prior to returning to the bench, players can sit in “cool down chairs,” arranged at least 12 feet from the bench with each chair six feet apart, where facemasks are not required. Once a player has cooled down, he must return to his assigned seat on the bench and wear a facemask until he enters the game again. Players must always wear facemasks in the locker room, during strength and conditioning activities and when travelling with anyone other than a household member. Coaches and other team staff must wear facemasks at all times during games.
• Testing: Any individual who regularly visits the interior of the home of a player or team staff member for a professional purpose must undergo COVID-19 testing twice per week. For any team with a positive player case or high-risk staff member case, the NBA may require players and team staff to undergo five consecutive days of twice-per-day, lab-based testing, in addition to daily point-of-care testing.
In the past week, the NBA has been forced to postpone four games, including three involving the Boston Celtics, due to rising COVID-19 cases and contact tracing.
On Tuesday, the Washington Wizards became the latest team impacted when two players entered health and safety protocols, forcing the club to cancel practice. The Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat have all had to adjust schedules in recent days due to the virus.