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NBA releases new Health & Safety protocols for COVID-19

In news that will thrill Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown, the NBA has loosened the restrictions on unvaccinated players for next season. Now Andrew Wiggins really hates that he got the shot!

Boston Celtics v Golden State Warriors
Steph Curry can throw away his mask this season.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In the wake of mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions going away across the country, the NBA and the Players’ Association have announced new, less-restrictive health and safety protocols for the upcoming season.

Let’s take the last one first. Face masks are no longer required, which should be a boon to Steve Kerr, who never figured out how to wear one correctly in the last year and a half.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr adjusts his mask as he’s talking to his players on the sidelines as the Golden State Warriors played the Denver Nuggets in their first preseason game at Chase Center in San Francisco, Calif., on Saturday, December 12, 2020
Steve Kerr never did consistently get his mask over his nose
Photo By Carlos Avila Gonzalez/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

With the CDC issuing new guidelines back in February, and most airlines dropping mask mandates in April, it’s not a surprise that the NBA followed suit for the upcoming season. Though there’s still roughly 100,000 new COVID cases every week, the availability of vaccines, booster shots, and more sophisticated treatments has made the virus less deadly. But we still don’t yet know the threat of “long COVID,” which has plagued a number of athletes, and one factor in the NBA’s policies - and indeed, the country in general - is that people are simply tired of masking up. The league says masks will still be encouraged indoors in markets where COVID rates are high.

Vaccinated players now only have to test when they’re symptomatic, which once again matches more closely with society at large. Officially, vaxxed players only have to test when “directed by their team physician or a league physician or government authority.” The pool of vaccinated players does include noted vaccine opponent Andrew Wiggins, who reluctantly got the shot last fall. Apparently one of the side effects of the vaccine is becoming an unstoppable rebounder in the playoffs!

It’s not clear whether the Warriors’ policies will change in this respect, perhaps with more caution taken during extended road trips. Isolation after a positive test remains the policy, which is why Jordan Poole had to spend ten days alone in a Boston hotel room last year after a positive test. Players will also have to report if and when someone in their household tests positive for COVID-19. However, proximity to Steph Curry when he is “red-hot,” “cold-blooded,” or “unconscious out there” does not mandate isolation, because those are merely symptoms of being the greatest shooter of all time.

COVID-19 caused a rash of cancellations last season, including a Nuggets-Warriors game where Denver didn’t have enough healthy players to compete. So far, the NBA hasn’t announced a continuation of the replacement player policy, which allowed teams to sign replacements when their players entered health and safety protocols, without affecting their roster limits or luxury tax payments.

This is specifically good news for Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, although it’s ironic that his restrictions on playing in New York City went away only after he was already trying to force his way out of town. And while it seems like everything is getting back to normal in the league, Commissioner Adam Silver still urged caution:

“I have learned over the last 2 1/2 years not to make any predictions when it comes to COVID,” said Silver, “But only to say we’ll be prepared for anything that comes our way.”