• Reuters

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The NHL had a difficult Wednesday, with 40 players landing on the list of absences caused by COVID-19. On Thursday, the league announced a series of additional coronavirus protocols.

The league statement includes comments from commissioner Gary Bettman, who said, of the 100 players on the COVID list since the season began Jan. 13, “fewer than half have done so because of confirmed positive tests — and, among that group, many have not been symptomatic.”

The four tenets of the new guidelines:

  • The removal of the partitions behind the benches in order to improve the quality of air flow.
  • When “practicable,” coaches and players are asked to arrive at the arena no more than an hour and 45 minutes before puck drop, except to receive necessary treatment. Meetings are expected to be held virtually.
  • Increased distance between dressing room stalls. They are now to be six feet apart, though that might not be implemented universally due to the physical limitations of many locker rooms. There is a deadline of Feb. 10 to submit plans to meet the requirement.
  • Air filtration and air-cleaning requirements are being considered that would have portable air cleaners behind the bench areas in order to improve indoor air quality and mitigate airborne viral transmission.

The evolving process is being closely monitored.

“As we continue to learn about the nature and transmission of COVID-19, we are trying to identify the relevant aspects of our game that are either unique or common among other sports and adjust our Protocols accordingly,” Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, NHL chief medical officer, said in a league statement.

Bettman referenced concern about increased transmission of the virus, even as vaccines are expected to slow the spread.

“With about 20% of our season played,” Bettman said in the league announcement, “we are mindful of the fact that we might be seeing a more aggressive transmission of the virus and will continue to make adjustments to our Protocols as we consult on a daily basis with, and adhere to, the recommendations of our medical advisers.

“Our priority has been and will continue to be to act conservatively with an abundance of caution, understanding that there are many things about the transmission of COVID-19 that are still being discovered. As a result, we won’t hesitate to take additional measures as indicated by what we are learning and as directed by our medical advisers.”

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