NBA, NFL officials toughen COVID-19 protocols as player cases increase

More than 100 NFL players and 39 NBA players are currently sitting out of team activities due to COVID-19 procedures

NFL and NBA leaders are overhauling their COVID-19 regulations in response to a recent rise in players catching the highly contagious virus.

At least 52 NBA players began league COVID protocols this month, according to a Thursday night tweet from ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski. A total of 39 NBA players from at least 13 teams — about 8% of players in the league — are currently participating in NBA COVID protocols, according to NBA.com.

Twenty-two of those players began COVID protocols on Wednesday and Thursday alone after being diagnosed with the virus, according to ESPN.

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates his dunk with the crowd during a 117-102 Lakers win over the Boston Celtics at the Staples Center on December 07, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Among them are some of the NBA’s biggest stars, including NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden, and Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook, who entered NBA health and safety protocols on Thursday.

The NBA and its players union responded Thursday night by agreeing to increase COVID testing for two weeks beginning on Dec. 26 and requiring players to wear masks during team activities with limited exceptions, according to a league memo.

The memo said players who haven’t recently recovered from the virus or gone at least two weeks since receiving a vaccine booster will be required to get tested on game days. League officials said to expect more requirements and recommendations in the coming days.

The situation isn’t much different in the NFL, where more than 100 players are currently sitting out of regular team activities due to COVID procedures, according to Yahoo Sports. The Cleveland Browns alone were forced to sideline 20 players this week due to COVID protocols, according to CBS Sports.

League administrators responded on Thursday by issuing a mask mandate for all NFL teams, regardless of a player’s vaccination status. The league is also requiring teams to host remote or outdoor meetings, eliminate in-person meals and ban players from accepting outside visitors while teams are traveling.

Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns warms up before the game against the Detroit Lions at FirstEnergy Stadium on November 21, 2021 in Cleveland. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The NFL said it will continue encouraging players to get COVID-19 vaccine booster shots and adjust its requirements for players recovering from COVID-19 to return to regular team activities.

“Throughout the pandemic we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff,” the NFL said in a statement on Thursday. “All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community.”

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