NHL making changes to in-arena COVID-19 protocols

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An ugly Wednesday on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list is leading to several changes in rinks around the league.

The NHL announced that four changes are coming to every arena beginning with Thursday’s slate of games. The first is the glass behind team benches will be removed to improve air flow.

Teams have also been asked to install portable air cleaners behind the benches to up the quality of air and help reduce airborne transmissions. As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman points out, HEPA filters would be used which, according to Consumer Reports “results in reductions of 50 per cent or higher in particulate matter.”

Players and staff cannot arrive at the arena more than an hour and 45 minutes before the start of their game unless injury treatment is required. Meetings, both on gamedays and on off days, will be held virtually.

Finally, increased space in dressing rooms will be required with at least six feet between player stalls.

Here’s NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s statement:

“With about 20 percent of our season played, we are mindful of the fact that we might be seeing a more aggressive transmission of the virus and will continue to make adjustments to our Protocols as we consult on a daily basis with, and adhere to, the recommendations of our medical advisors

“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. 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.”

“Every day things change, and you just go with the flow,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said. “If there’s no glass behind the bench, there’s no fans back there, so it’s not going to affect anything. It shouldn’t at all.”

Andrew Copp, who is the Jets’ NHLPA rep, understands the changes but wasn’t pleased with the new arrival time for players.

“We’ve got guys that show up here before 4 o’clock for a 7 o’clock game,” he said. “It’s getting your mind right, it’s getting your body right, to put out the best possible product for the fans, and trying to lower injury as much as possible. I mean, this is pretty much the only place we’re allowed to come. … I don’t see what the difference is between a 5:15 and 4:15 entrance for guys.

“Really upset about it. Really upset how that’s going to work out. We’ll be fighting that one, for sure.”

More rapid testing

A PCR test is administered to players every morning, but longer waits for results have led to calls for rapid tests to be given as well. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan that the league is “committed to layering in more rapid testing as we go forward.”

As of Thursday, 22 NHL games have been postponed since the start of the season on Jan. 13. There have been nearly 90 players who have been placed on the league’s COVID-19-protocol-related absences list in the last four weeks.

The Wild were the latest team to have games postponed after five players were added on Wednesday. The Devils currently have 17 players listed and are not scheduled to resume play until Feb. 9.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.