The NHL is following other leagues and U.S. government guidance by cutting COVID-19 isolation times for players and personnel to five days under certain conditions and where it is allowed by local laws.
The change went into effect Wednesday and applies only in the U.S. because of stricter pandemic regulations in Canada. The league has 25 teams based in the U.S. and seven in Canada; earlier this week, the NHL postponed nine games in Canada because of attendance limits imposed by provincial governments.
The league and NHL Players' Association agreed to the updated protocols, which apply for the next two weeks before they are reviewed.
“While the changes apply on a league-wide basis, all personnel will still have to comply with the applicable health and safety regulations in their jurisdictions, including the federal and provincial COVID health and safety mandates in Canada, which may be more restrictive than the protocol,” the NHL and NHLPA said in a joint statement.
Players, coaches and staff who tested positive for the coronavirus can return after five days if symptoms are gone or resolving themselves with a negative PCR test or two negative rapid test results taken more than two hours apart.
“I think that’s a good step,” Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg said on a video call. "Obviously testing will still be a regular thing, I’m sure, and that’s something that we dealt with all last year, so we’re used to that. But I think that’s the way to do it as long as we can keep everything in the way it’s been, which has been pretty safe to me.”
The 10-day isolation requirement remains in Canada. The NBA and NFL previously reduced to six and five days, respectively, after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance.
Hockey players this week had expressed a desire for shorter isolation times. Daily testing and enhanced protocols, including mask-wearing at team facilities unless on the ice for games or practices, are in effect through at least Jan. 7.
“We’ve had a bunch of guys on our team also with basically zero symptoms,” Forsberg said. “I can only imagine how frustrating it’s been for those guys sitting there perfectly healthy and can’t be back out on the ice.”
The league has postponed 80 games so far this season, counting the nine in Canada because of crowd restrictions in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. Another game, scheduled for Jan. 12 between the Canadiens and Bruins, was moved from Montreal to Boston, where fans are permitted.
The carousel of teams adding and removing players from the NHL COVID protocol list continued Wednesday, including three players in Dallas.