NHL to relax COVID Protocols for fully vaccinated playoff teams

Teams participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs are going to have some relaxed freedoms regarding the league’s COVID protocols provided they are fully vaccinated.

The league announced on Saturday that once 85% of a team’s traveling party is fully vaccinated, the league will reduce protocols for those teams in regards to mask-wearing, team gatherings and meetings, indoor and outdoor activities, testing and travel.

The league considers people to be fully vaccinated when they are two weeks removed from the second dose of an approved vaccine.

TSN’s Frank Seravalli Tweeted on Saturday that it is believed five to seven of the 12 United States based playoff teams could meet that 85 percent threshold by the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that the majority of the American teams are around the 50% mark for fully vaccinated individuals. That number is expected to increase as more players, coaches, and staff clear the two-week mark from their second vaccine dose in the coming days and weeks.

The league’s seven Canadian-based teams (including the four likely playoff teams in Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Montreal) are not believed to be anywhere close to that number given the differences in vaccine eligibility between the two countries.

Among the changes in protocols (via TSN):

• Fully vaccinated individuals may now socially gather in groups of up to eight, now including for the first time others who are not in a club’s traveling party – such as friends and family, so long as each person in the group has also been fully vaccinated. Face coverings and social distancing are not required during those gatherings. The gatherings can occur either indoors or outdoors.

• Masks are no longer required in non-public areas of game arenas and practice facilities for fully vaccinated individuals.

• Team meetings and social gatherings can resume with no face coverings and no requirement to socially distance for vaccinated individuals, but they must be sufficiently distanced from unvaccinated individuals.

• Fully vaccinated players will no longer need to get PCR tested on days off. Similarly, fully vaccinated players will no longer require a rapid test, unless that player did not have a PCR test the previous day.

• Fully vaccinated individuals will now be permitted to eat on flights and busses.

Fully vaccinated individuals will also be allowed to dine in restaurants with outdoor dining options. They can dine indoors if the restaurant provides a private room away from other diners and their server wears a mask. They are also allowed to golf as a group and utilize saunas and steam rooms at team facilities with other fully vaccinated individuals.

It was a little less than a month ago that Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner was critical of the league for not relaxing COVID protocols for vaccinated teams, saying the league went back on its word. The league responded by saying it had not yet made any such guarantee or agreement with the players. It is also true that no team at that time would have met the 85% threshold the league is looking for now.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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