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NBA will return to elevated coronavirus protocols amid rise in cases

The NBA will ramp up its coronavirus protocols starting after Christmas. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)
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The NBA and its players have agreed to elevated coronavirus protocols amid a rising number of cases both in the league and around the country. The new regulations, laid out in a memo to teams that was obtained my numerous outlets, call for increased mask usage and additional coronavirus testing.

Players and coaches will have to wear masks for nearly all team activities when they are not actively playing: while traveling, when they are sitting on the bench or in the locker room, and during team meetings and training sessions. Head coaches will not have to wear masks during games.

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The memo also said players and team staff members will be tested on game days over a two-week period starting Dec. 26, though people who received their booster shots at least 14 days earlier or have recently recovered from the virus will be exempt.

More requirements and recommendations could be coming in the next few days “to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread within the team environment,” the memo said.

The league already had increased its testing of players since Thanksgiving, with more than 50 players, coaches and team officials entering the NBA’s health and safety protocols this month. Previously, fully vaccinated players generally only had to undergo daily testing if they were symptomatic, came into close contact with an individual who had tested positive or were required to test in compliance with local governmental guidelines.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook became the latest marquee player to enter the health and safety protocols, joining other big names such as Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden. Some teams have been hit particularly hard: The Chicago Bulls have a league-high eight players in the coronavirus protocols, resulting in two postponed games this week, and the Nets have seven.

The Lakers, who visit the Bulls on Sunday in a game that has yet to be postponed, have four players in the protocols.

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To return to the court after entering the protocols, players must remain in isolation for 10 days or test negative twice on separate days. All players who enter the protocols must receive medical clearance from a team and league physician before they can rejoin their teams, and those who exhibit moderate or severe symptoms also must receive a cardiac screening.

The rise in coronavirus cases comes at an inopportune time on the NBA schedule as the league’s annual Christmas Day showcase nears. Five games are scheduled for Dec. 25, including the Golden State Warriors vs. the Phoenix Suns (the top two teams in the Western Conference) and Nets-Lakers.

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