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COVID cases rising among NBA players, but league is not planning a pause in the season

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ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy predicted on Wednesday’s telecast the NBA will pause its season at some point due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.

Perhaps Van Gundy has insight considering he works for the one of league’s TV partners. Maybe it’s just what he believes will happen.

But in real-time, the league is not considering an imminent pause, though it would be foolish to think the NBA hasn’t discussed a pause as a contingency in a worst-case scenario. It’s just not on the table now.

Late Thursday, the league in a memo to teams announced an increase in testing and surveillance for players and Tier 1 personnel such as front-office executives, coaches, trainers and equipment managers during the holiday season.

“This testing plan also seeks to mitigate the recent increase in cases over the holiday season,” the memo said.

Previously, vaccinated players were not subjected to regular testing but will now be tested on gamedays starting Dec. 26.

As part of an effort to protect itself from another COVID outbreak, the NBA will require players and staff to wear masks on the benches, in the teams' workout facilities and while traveling with the team.
As part of an effort to protect itself from another COVID outbreak, the NBA will require players and staff to wear masks on the benches, in the teams' workout facilities and while traveling with the team.

The league also temporarily changed its mask policy and now requires players and Tier 1 personnel to wear masks “at a team facility, including on the bench during games, in the locker, weight and training room, including while engaged in strength and conditioning or cardio activities; traveling with team and otherwise required under applicable federal, state and local laws, regulations or orders,” according to the memo.

Like the COVID virus, it’s a rapidly evolving situation in the NBA with more than 60 players, two coaches and one team president in the health and safety protocols since the start of the season.

The league has seen an increase of positive tests in December and more than 30 players are currently sidelined in the health and safety protocols.

But the plan remains to complete an 82-game season while postponing games if necessary and staying on the NBA's normal October-June schedule. Last season, the league postponed more than 30 games but made them up and all teams played 72 games.

This season, the NBA has postponed two Chicago Bulls games, and the Bulls’ G League team, the Windy City Bulls, have had games canceled. They also won’t participate in the G League Winter Showcase Dec. 19-22.

Several teams, including the Bulls, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers, have been hit with COVID outbreaks. The league expects cases to rise, especially during the winter months where there is more indoor activity.

Ontario announced a mandate this week to reduce capacity by 50% for NBA and NHL games at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. It wouldn’t be surprising if other cities or states instituted similar guidelines, and several cities already have a policy requiring fans to show proof of vaccine or negative test to attend events.

There are many factors guiding the NBA’s response to not only a rise a cases throughout the league but the country. It has regular communication with infection disease and medical experts and epidemiologists.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths have risen 3%, 8% and 4% from a week ago, according the CDC. But the overwhelming majority of NBA players who have had COVID are asymptomatic with a few experiencing mild symptoms, according to a person familiar with the cases. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.

The league also views December 2021 differently than March 2020 when little was known about COVID-19, and there were no vaccines, which help prevent severe illness and death.

The league will continue to work with its experts and modify its COVID guidelines as necessary.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: As COVID cases rise, a pause in the NBA season is not yet imminent