NHL adds game-day rapid testing to stem COVID-19 outbreaks

The New York Rangers prepare to play against the Boston Bruins in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in New York. (Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo via AP)
The New York Rangers prepare to play against the Boston Bruins in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021, in New York. (Bruce Bennett/Pool Photo via AP) (2021 Getty Images)

The NHL is adding game-day rapid tests for players, team personnel and on-ice officials as part of a series of expanded safety protocols unveiled Thursday in its latest bid to stem potential COVID-19 outbreaks.

Rapid tests will be initially made available to the league’s 24 U.S.-based teams and provide results within a half-hour to augment daily PCR testing already in place, which is similar to the protocols the NBA introduced this season. PCR tests are considered to be more accurate, but there’s a 12-24 hour turnaround on results.

The league says it is working with its seven Canadian-based teams to have a similar rapid-testing system in place based on availability.

Other expanded safety protocols include having all team meetings conducted virtually, removing the plexiglass surrounding the penalty box area, and recommend players not leave their homes except to attend practices, games or for essential activities. The directive also recommends other household members stay at home, and consider using grocery delivery services.

In addition, teams are asked to provide players and staff KN95 facemasks, which are considered more effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

The NHL is also launching a player tracking system to assist in contract tracing, and intends to use genomic sequencing on a case by case basis to determine specific strains of the coronavirus when there is a cluster of positive tests.

The added measures were approved by the league and NHL Players’ Association’s medical advisors, and will remain in place until at least the end of the month.

The development comes two days after Vegas Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek tested positive but was not quarantined until after playing the first two periods of a 5-4 win over Anaheim. And it comes on the same day the league delayed the start of Edmonton’s game at Montreal by an hour to provide additional time to complete contact-tracing and test results after Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi was placed on the COVID-19 list.