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NBA outlines health and safety protocols for 2020-21 season

Last week, the NBA distributed to teams a health-and-safety protocol guide for the 2020-21 NBA season, outlining procedures for how it will deal with the coronavirus.

Now the league has provided updated guidance detailing further restrictions at home and on the road, safety precautions for the NBA principals and their families, and discipline for violations that could affect other players, teams, and the game schedule itself.

Daily testing began last weekend in advance of training camps opening. Teams began required individual workouts Tuesday, with group activities starting this weekend.

Among the key provisions in the initial document:

• Occurrence of independent cases (not spread among players or staff), or a small or “expected number” of COVID-19 cases will not require a decision to suspend or cancel the season.

• Anyone who tests positive will have two routes to return to work: go 10 days or more after the first positive test or onset of symptoms, or test negative twice at least 24 hours apart via PCR testing.

• Any player who tests positive, even if asymptomatic, will not be allowed to exercise for a minimum of 10 days and then must be monitored in individual workouts for an additional two days.

• There are no criteria mentioned for what might prompt the NBA to suspend the season.

• Team traveling parties will be limited to 45 people, including 17 players, as they make their way around the country to play a home-and-road schedule in NBA arenas.

• As in the Orlando bubble, an anonymous tip line will be made available to report possible violations of safety protocols.

The latest memo specified the NBA’s response to and penalties for violation of safety protocols. After the successful restart last summer to complete the 2019-20 season and postseason in the Orlando “bubble,” the league is tackling a more traditional — and potentially precarious — approach this season with in-market games, including travel and hotel stays.

Details of the enhanced virus protocols and discipline policies include:

• Players violating the safety guidelines may face a loss of pay proportionate to any lost availability due to quarantines or reinstatement steps. Other penalties may include formal warnings, fines, suspensions, or educational sessions.

• The NBA may conduct unannounced inspections of team facilities to ensure that franchisees are complying with the safety protocols.

• Once a vaccine is available, the league and the National Basketball Players Association will negotiate whether players, coaches and staff will be required to receive it. If it is not required, adjustments to the safety provisions — such as requiring more masking or testing of those who choose not to receive the vaccination — might be implemented.

• While in their team’s home market, team personnel will be prohibited from going to bars, lounges, or clubs, from attending live entertainment or sports events, from using gyms, spas or pools, or from participating in social gatherings with more than 15 people.

• On the road, players, coaches, and staff will be permitted to dine outside their hotels if the restaurants provide outdoor dining, have fully privatized indoor rooms, or have met requirements to be formally approved by the league and the players’ union. The NBA and NBPA will work to provide a list of at least three approved restaurants in each market.

• Teams will designate traveling parties of no more than 45 people as “Tier 1” members. Other employees and staff with less direct contact, requiring masks and social-distancing, will be classified as “Tier 2.” Individuals in both tiers will be subject to daily coronavirus testing. The NBA also will provide twice-weekly tests for household members of players and staff.

• Teams also face potential penalties for failing to comply with or failing to report violations of the mandated safety protocols.

The NBA preseason schedule, featuring 49 games (two to four per team), begins Friday and runs through Dec. 19. The NBA’s plan for a 72-game regular-season starts Dec. 22 and ends in mid-May, with the 2021 Finals scheduled to be completed in July.

The 2019-20 season was interrupted by a virus shutdown that lasted from March 11 to July 30. Play resumed with 22 of the 30 teams participating in eight seeding games, after which a Play-In Tournament for the Western Conference No. 8 seed was followed by the traditional 16-team playoff bracket.

All games and activities of the restart were staged in a “bubble” at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in the Walt Disney World Resort outside Orlando. The ambitious and costly (approximately $180 million) project saved the league an estimated $1.5 billion in additional revenue losses while enabling the Los Angeles Lakers to be crowned as 2020 champions on Oct. 11.