Ethan Miller / Getty Images
The world of professional sports is back in disarray with the entry of the omicron variant.
Players have been benched after testing positive, games have been called or postponed and leagues and player unions are scrambling to figure out how to move forward amid a cloud of uncertainty.
NHL postponed 27 games to date and will postpone 12 more until Thursday due to COVID. NBA postponed five games due to the number of players and staff who had entered the league’s COVID-19 protocols. NFL game delays were also piling up.
The NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association announced on Sunday that the regular season will continue, but cross-border games between the United States and Canada will be postponed.
A day earlier, the NHL said it was strengthen security measures against coronaviruses facing omicron until at least January 7, including increased testing requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated players.
The NFL seemed to take a different approach. As of Sunday, the league said it will only test unvaccinated and symptomatic players, The Associated Press reported. Vaccinated players would no longer be tested every week.
“This is not about relaxing our standards,” league chief medical officer Dr Allen Sills said, according to the AP. “Rather, we are simply providing a higher degree of precision by measuring ourselves against a more precise ruler.”
Sills encouraged players to report symptoms to the league, receive booster shots and limit their exposure to the virus, according to NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo.
Scientists believe that the omicron variant spreads faster than any previous variant and is also more effective at causing infections in people who are vaccinated. What is not clear is whether it is more or less severe than previous strains, like delta.
Professional sports leagues have not required players to be vaccinated, but a large majority of players have obtained the vaccine. The leagues have rigorous testing regimes in place as well, and experts say that means it’s possible that the high number of infections they are currently seeing is a harbinger of what’s to come for the. population as a whole.
“I’m afraid it’s possible – maybe not likely, but possible – that the numbers in these sports leagues are a bit of a canary in the coal mine for the rest of us,” sports epidemiologist Zach Binney at Oxford College of Emory University, NPR told NPR on Wednesday.
It is not known how long this phase of increased caution will last. But the NHL and the players’ union, citing schedule disruptions and the pandemic, also said they were “actively” discussing player participation in the 2022 Winter Olympics, which is expected to start in Beijing, China. , in February.