NBA changes COVID protocols in hopes of shortening missed time

Lakers assistant coach David Fizdale talks to players from the sideline
The Lakers’ David Fizdale is one of four assistant coaches running an NBA team while the head coaches are in the COVID health and safety protocols.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

NBA players who test positive for COVID-19 now have a quicker path to return to play after the league completed a significant update to its health and safety protocols Monday.

The biggest change: Isolation periods for players who test positive may now be significantly shortened — down to six days from the customary 10 — provided those players are asymptomatic and meet other testing standards. Teams were told of the new protocols in a memo sent by the league, a copy of which was obtained by the Associated Press.

That memo was sent on the same day that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut isolation restrictions for Americans who catch the coronavirus from 10 to five days. CDC officials made that move saying that evidence shows people with the coronavirus are most infectious in the two days before and three days after symptoms develop.

The NBA also relied on data, telling teams that the updated protocols “reflects analysis of testing data that the league and its infectious disease experts and epidemiologists have gathered throughout the pandemic.” The changes were made in agreement with the National Basketball Players Assn.

The NBA has seen coronavirus numbers soar in recent days, even with 97% of players vaccinated and at least 65% of eligible players boosted against the virus. A pair of coaches — Phoenix’s Monty Williams and Portland’s Chauncey Billups — entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols Monday, according to two people with direct knowledge of those situations.


The individuals spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because neither team nor coach had addressed the matter publicly. Both situations were first reported by ESPN.

Phoenix plays host to Memphis on Monday, while Portland — with seven players in the protocols as well — plays host to Dallas. It will be the Trail Blazers’ first game since Dec. 21; their game that had been scheduled for Dec. 23 against Brooklyn was postponed because of virus issues decimating the Nets’ roster. That was one of nine games postponed by the NBA so far this season.

Williams and Billups being off the sideline raises the total of head coaches in the NBA currently sidelined by virus issues to four, including the Lakers’ Frank Vogel and Chicago’s Billy Donovan. Vogel missed the Lakers’ last four games, and Donovan is missing his second consecutive game when the Bulls visit Atlanta on Monday.

“With Frank right now, it’s a matter of testing and getting those negative tests in,” said Lakers assistant coach David Fizdale, who is running the team in Vogel’s absence. “But he’s doing well healthwise. His spirit’s right. Obviously, he’s chomping at the bit to get back and start competing.”

The count of players in the NBA’s protocols remained around 120 Monday afternoon, with no fewer than 63 players ruled out from among the seven games on the day’s schedule because of virus-related issues. Among the new notable additions to the list: Olympic gold medalist Jayson Tatum, placed into protocols by the Boston Celtics.

Atlanta listed 13 players as out — 11 for virus reasons, two for injuries — for its game against Chicago. Tatum was one of 15 players — eight Celtics, seven Timberwolves — ruled out of the Boston-Minnesota game for virus-related reasons alone.