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NHL modifies COVID-19 protocols for fully vaccinated during playoffs

Restrictions on mask-wearing, social gatherings relaxed for teams, individuals

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

The NHL and the NHL Players' Association announced modifications Saturday to COVID-19 protocols for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for fully vaccinated individuals and teams.

The modifications include relaxing restrictions regarding mask-wearing, testing, quarantining, team meetings, social gatherings and team traveling parties (players, coaches, management and staff). 

An individual is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the final dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine. A team is considered fully vaccinated when 85 percent of the individuals in its traveling party are fully vaccinated.

"[What] it will provide for us is an opportunity just to have more interaction," Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Saturday. "When you look at the COVID protocols to this point, by design, they're set up to limit the interaction for obvious reasons. And our team has tried hard to stay vigilant and disciplined, to adhere to the protocols the best we can. And the players, once again, I think just deserve so much credit for their discipline and staying with it here. We're going to continue to stay with it until this team is fully vaccinated. But what I will tell you is that both from our players and coaches, our traveling staff, we will be well over the 85 percent threshold."

Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said the changes could provide a big lift for the players. 

"Just to get back to some sort of normalcy," Brind'Amour said. "The playoffs are a grind just like this season has been, so any type of getting your mind away from it by being around the guys will help. We'll see how that goes."

Any individual who chooses not to be vaccinated must continue to abide by the previous COVID-19 protocols.

The protocol modifications also apply to on-ice officials once all members of the officiating team are fully vaccinated.

Upon agreement with the NHLPA, the NHL reserved the right to withdraw the modifications for various reasons, including if there is a team COVID-19 outbreak.

"I can't put it into percentages or anything, but it's been a grind for a lot of the players in the protocols and those things," New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. "I think that will be an ease for players, like, 'Hey, this has been worth it.' We've been grinding, grinding, and now we're seeing things change a bit. I think it'll give a boost of energy to all involved."

A start date for the playoffs has not been announced. 

Protocol modifications for fully vaccinated individuals include:

-- No longer needing to follow quarantine requirements following exposure to the virus.

-- No longer requiring a PCR test on off days and no longer needing to undergo a Point of Care (rapid) test on game days unless they did not get a PCR the previous day. But any individual who returns an initial positive test for COVID-19 must enter the positive test protocol regardless of their vaccination status.

-- Permitting social gatherings of up to eight fully vaccinated individuals that can include fully vaccinated persons not in the traveling party. Masks and social distancing are no longer required for these gatherings.

-- Permitting visits to the hotel rooms of other fully vaccinated individuals.

-- Permitting eating and drinking at restaurants that offer outdoor dining either individually or with other fully vaccinated individuals.

-- Permitting two or more fully vaccinated individuals to commute unmasked together. 

-- No longer being subject to time limitations for pregame arena arrival.

Protocol modifications for fully vaccinated teams include:

-- Fully vaccinated individuals will no longer be required to wear masks in non-public areas at practice and game facilities.  

-- Teams can resume holding team meetings and social gatherings with no requirement for fully vaccinated individuals to socially distance or wear masks, provided they are sufficiently distanced from unvaccinated individuals.

-- Fully vaccinated individuals may golf as a group.

-- Fully vaccinated individuals will be permitted to eat on flights and busses.

-- Fully vaccinated individuals may eat together at team meals outdoors with no limitation on group size and no requirements for masks or social distancing. They can also dine together indoors with no limitation on group size (and no requirements for masks or social distancing) if a separate section of the restaurant is secured away from the rest of the restaurants patrons and they are served by masked restaurant employees.

-- For postgame and practice meals, teams can provide buffet style meals serve by approved staff in a room reserved for fully vaccinated individuals. Team shall provide a separate meal room for unvaccinated individuals. senior writer Dan Rosen contributed to this report

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