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NBA Season Facing New Covid-19 Challenges

After a surprisingly smooth first two weeks of the season, the NBA is now facing difficulties controlling the spread of Covid-19 within the league.

From Sunday, Jan. 10 to Wednesday, January 13th there have been six games postponed. There had only been one postponement since the start of the regular season before Sunday.

According to the league’s weekly report of Coronavirus cases, 63 players have tested positive for the virus as of Jan. 7. This does not include coaching staff and other team personnel. 

The players that test positive aren’t the only ones who have been forced to suspend team activities. The leagues health and safety protocols include contact tracing that forces teams to isolate any players in “close contact” with the individual testing positive. This has decimated rosters, and been the main reason for the postponements in the last week. If a team does not have eight available players for a game it is automatically postponed.

Despite the slate of recently postponed games, the NBA doesn’t appear to even be considering going on pause. With speculation about the league having to shut down spreading quickly, it was quickly made clear that would not be happening. NBA spokesperson Mike Bass told ESPN on Sunday, “There are no plans to pause the season, and we will continue to be guided by our medical experts and health and safety protocols.”

To face the uphill battle of keeping the season on track the NBA and NBPA agreed to stricter health and safety guidelines on Tuesday. For starters, players and coaches have been asked to remain in their homes except when attending team activities, exercising, or any other essential activities. 

There are several more measures that will be in place for the rest of the season as well. When on the road, players and coaches are not allowed to leave their team hotels excluding team activities or emergencies. Guests are also no longer allowed in hotel rooms. Players are discouraged from socializing with opponents before and after games, and are supposed to limit greetings before and after games to a fist bump or elbow tap. It is also now mandatory for all players to wear face coverings while on the bench during games.

The league and commissioner Adam Silver have received some pushback from players over the new restrictions. During a postgame press conference, Oklahoma City Thunder guard George Hill bluntly criticized the guidelines. “They can’t tell me I have to stay in a room 24/7. If it’s that serious then maybe we shouldn’t be playing” he told reporters. “I just don’t understand some of the rules, as far as being able to sweat 48 minutes with a guy next to us and the team next to us but we can’t talk to them after the game. It makes no sense to me.”

Hill isn’t the only player who is unhappy with the situation. Damian Lillard opened up during a press conference about how difficult this new normal has been for him, saying “I feel like I’m living my life in a box. I go to practice, I go back home. I don’t go anywhere else.”

Besides health and safety protocols, the NBA has taken other steps to make sure that they will be able to get through the season. They created a shortened regular season schedule that should be able to accommodate the postponements that will likely continue to pop up. They also have teams often play two games in a row against the same team in the same city. This design attempts to make contact tracing much easier in the event of a positive test and contain any possible outbreaks. 

With Covid-19 vaccines beginning to be given to people in the United States, some have called for NBA players to receive the vaccine to ensure the safety of the players. However, Adam Silver has made it clear that the league will not skip the line to get it’s players vaccinated.

For now the NBA plans for the regular season to finish up on May 16, and for the playoffs to begin shortly after. The tentative date for the end of the playoffs is July 22. 

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