NBA outlines extensive coronavirus health and safety protocols for 2020-21 season

In a memo sent to teams on Saturday, the NBA outlined key dates and health and safety protocols for the 2020-21 season.

The memo, obtained by USA TODAY Sports, included dates for voluntary individual workouts (Nov. 24-30), required individual workouts (Dec. 1-5), group practices (Dec. 6-10), exhibition play (Dec. 11-21) and the start of the regular season (Dec. 22). The league also sent a 139-page document outlining health and safety protocols pertaining to the coronavirus.

Some of the document is similar to the NBA’s 114-page health and safety protocol for its restarted 2019-20 season at a quarantined site in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. All teams are required to undergo daily COVID-19 tests, as well as follow social distancing, sanitary and mask-wearing rules outside of games. But with the NBA beginning this season in home markets, the league also outlined some unique procedures.

Here are the key takeaways.

What could suspend or cancel season?

The NBA is intent on finishing the season and acknowledged “it is likely that some staff, players, and other participants in the 2020-21 season nonetheless will test positive or contract COVID-19, particularly as the virus remains prevalent in particular team markets and surrounding communities. The occurrence of independent cases (i.e., cases not spread among players or team staff) or a small or otherwise expected number of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the 2020-21 season.” The NBA said it could modify protocols if necessary.

The NBA will have extensive health and safety protocols in place for the upcoming season. (Photo: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports)

Returning to play after positive test

A player can return 10 days after the date of the first positive test, at least 24 hours without a fever or using fever-reducing medications and if all symptoms have improved. For 48 hours after discontinuation of isolation, a player can participate in individual workouts when no other players are present; the player must also complete cardiac screening. A player can return sooner if he has at least two consecutive negative PCR test results.

Voluntary individual workout procedures

No more than two players can be at a practice facility. No more than two coaches or player development personnel can be there at any one time, either. Only one player and staff member can be in the weight room at the same time. During these workouts, everyone has to follow social-distancing rules.

Self-quarantines before training camp 

From Nov. 27-Dec. 2, all participants must self-quarantine at home other than for “essential activities," such as trips to the grocery story and hospital, dropping off or picking up children and traveling to the team facility for COVID-19 testing and individual workouts.

Mandatory individual workouts 

Players have to return at least three consecutive negative PCR tests before participating. No more than four players can be at the facility at one time. 

Teams must hire external consultants

Each team has to have an infectious disease specialist, infection control specialist and a rapid testing coordinator, a testing officer, a testing manager and contact-tracing officer, two contact tracers, a team protocol enforcement officer, two facemask enforcement officers, player liason, facility hygiene officer, arena health and hygiene manager, health education and awareness officer and travel safety officer.

There is a league protocol officer, and each team will have a protocol officer who will monitor, enforce and certify protocols. 

Teams placed in three tiers

Tier 1 can include up to 45 people among players, coaching staff, medical and training staff, senior basketball executives, equipment staff, team security, up to two players’ personal trainers or massage therapist, public relations staff and team governor. They will be allowed to physically interact with one another so long as they follow the testing, mask wearing and sanitary guidelines.

Tier 2 can include up to 15 people who can physically interact, but have to be at least six feet apart and always have to wear facemasks. They include non-coaching staff, training staff not in close contact with players, food service employees, PR staff, team social media/content staff, team security, any senior basketball executives or team governor.

Tier 3 can include up to 25 people who don’t need to physically interact with anyone from Tiers 1 or 2. That can include facility personnel and security as well as consultants. Teams are allowed to shuffle among Tiers 1 through 3 as long as they follow all the protocols. No more than 50 Tier 1 and Tier 2 people can be at the team practice facility at any one time.

No lounging 

Teams can provide meals to players, coaches and staff members, but they will not be allowed to eat at the practice facility. People are forbidden from using team lounges or rec rooms. No team dinners will be allowed until Dec. 11.

Personal-protection equipment 

For trips, the team must supply the traveling party with masks, hydroalcoholic gel and disinfectant wipes. Teams must have an adequate supply of N-95 masks, face shields or goggles, FDA-approved gowns or Tyvek suits and FDA-approved medical gloves for players and traveling staffers.

Traveling parties

By Dec. 10, teams must register their traveling party with the league office. Each team’s traveling party has to include 13-17 players, three coaches, two athletic trainers, one strength and conditioning coach, one equipment manager, two team security staff members, one public relations staff member, one team content producer, one team protocol compliance officer, one facemask enforcement officer and one team testing manager. 

Testing positive on the road

Home teams must provide visiting teams with support and resources, such as local emergency health care facility, rapid retesting assistance, ground transportation and isolation housing.

Road life

The NBA wants as little outside contact as possible when staying in hotels and encourages the use of mobile room keys and contactless room service and procuring rooms that are as distant as possible from other guests. Teams must have a dedicated vendor to provide catering on the road. Teams must have a suitable space in the hotel for COVID-19 testing.

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