Too early for NHL to adopt NFL’s testing approach

An infectious disease specialist told Ron MacLean at Hockey Night in Canada Saturday night that it is too early for the NHL to adopt the NFL’s less restrictive testing policy for COVID-19.

The NFL’s approach, revealed on Saturday, is that if a player is double vaccinated and asymptomatic, that player does not need to be tested and can play. Currently, the players in the NHL are tested regularly – daily for the past few days, with the increase in positive results likely caused by the omicron variant – whether they are showing symptoms or not.

“I’m good at that at some point, but right now it’s too early,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ontario, during the second intermission of a game between the Senators and Flyers. “We’re in the midst of an exponential spread here with omicron, so we need to keep an eye on things, especially in these aggregate environments like a hockey team, so we can break those transmission chains.

“But at some point, these minor cases, especially when it becomes an endemic virus that circulates like the flu, we don’t need to know about every cough, cold, or runny nose. And in that situation, we wouldn’t test people who be asymptomatic, so that will come in the future, it’s just a little too early now.”

Very early indications are that the omicron variant is milder than the more lethal delta variant. Chakrabarti said it would be good if it turns out to be true for a number of reasons, but warned it’s too early to know for sure.

“There’s more and more evidence coming from South Africa, but also from the UK and Denmark, now that it might be just that,” he said. “But given the situation we’re in, we might want to have more solid evidence before going that extra mile. But yeah, if this is something that’s highly transmissible but extremely mild, it’s going to make all of us exposed to immune and that would really, really slow the pandemic.”

Chakrabarti added that if omicron is actually milder and more transmissible than its more lethal delta variant, it could displace the delta and be “a blessing in disguise.”

The NHL is in the midst of a COVID-19 outbreak, even with most players fully vaccinated and some with boosters, with 66 players placed in COVID-19 protocol in the past 72 hours. The Calgary Flames, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators have all been postponed to December 27.

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