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COVID-19

As COVID outbreaks intensify, NBA, players’ union may return to daily testing

In a sign of the time, an usher at the United Center in Chicago holds a sign reminding fans about COVID-19 precautions, during the first half of a Chicago Bulls game.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The NBA and the National Basketball Players Association are in the process of enhancing their health and safety protocols in response to rising coronavirus numbers around the league, said a person familiar with the negotiations.

Among the biggest changes: The league and the union are working to finalize a plan to return to daily testing for players and coaches, at least in the short term, said the person who spoke to The Associated Press Wednesday on condition of anonymity because nothing had been finalized or publicly announced.

Fully vaccinated players have not needed daily testing this season. The league and the union were already prepared to start daily testing on Friday for those who have yet to receive booster shots, and now may simply widen those plans.

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The league has said about 97 percent of players are vaccinated, and a little more than 60 percent of those are boosted. But there were 33 players known to be in the league’s health and safety protocols as of Wednesday evening, along with two head coaches — Indiana’s Rick Carlisle and Sacramento interim coach Alvin Gentry — and a number of other staffers.

Among the big-name players currently sidelined: Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brooklyn’s James Harden. The league has postponed two games this week involving the Chicago Bulls, who have a league-high 10 players currently in protocols.

“I’ve got a feeling we may go back to some of the stuff we did last year, which was clearly no fun,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. “But we got through the season, so I guess that’s the sacrifice. If that’s what we have to do, we have to do it.”

Another big change that’s already certain: The Toronto Raptors will have to limit attendance to 50 percent capacity, at least for now.

Officials in Ontario on Wednesday ordered the attendance limit, which will affect the Raptors, the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and others. The Raptors were already planning to begin a new initiative called “Operation Mask Up (or out)” on Saturday, requiring “all attendees to strictly adhere to all mask-wearing protocols or risk ejection from the building.”

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The Raptors’ ownership group also said it “strongly encourages all fans to get vaccinated and closely follow all public health protocols to protect each other and our community at large.”

The NHL also is planning enhanced protocols into early January, in response to the rising numbers. Multiple NFL teams have also been affected this week, with some forced to work remotely after multiple positive tests.

“Yeah, I’m worried. I’m just worried in general,” Rivers said. “You see football and hockey and us, basketball. It’s just a lot of it right now. It’s a lot of it nationwide. Obviously, outside of sports, as well. It clearly is a concern, for sure.”

Some players were removed from protocols in recent days, including Charlotte point guard LaMelo Ball. He was ruled out for Wednesday night’s game against the San Antonio Spurs and is continuing to work on conditioning.

Players in the health and safety protocols must be sidelined at least 10 days or record two negative COVID-19 tests in a 24-hour period before they can resume basketball activities.

In the NFL, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield attended an event at a Boys & Girls Club on Monday and tested positive for COVID-19, and the youth organization had needed to take extra precautions.

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Mayfield’s venture on Monday with his wife, Emily, was to a Christmas event at a local Boys & Girls chapter, where they could have exposed themselves and others to the virus.

After learning of Mayfield’s positive test, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio said in a statement it informed parents and family members of the 75 children who attended the event. The club is closing its facility in Elyria, Ohio, for the rest of this week, “to do a deep cleaning and limit any further exposure.”

In addition to Mayfield, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, two other coaches, and 18 players — 11 of them starters or regulars — are on the COVID-19 list. Stefanski said he supported Mayfield’s charity work, and that he has spoken to the team about using caution while in public places as the virus rages.

But this is the second straight year the Browns have been hit by an outbreak of the coronavirus. Stefanski even missed a playoff game at Pittsburgh in January.

An NFL spokesman told the AP there has been no discussion of moving Saturday’s game.

“We have a game Saturday at 4:30 p.m., unless somebody tells me otherwise,” Stefanski said of facing Las Vegas. “We just really have to focus on what we need to do to prepare, and that is our full expectation is to get out there with our guys Saturday and go find a way.”

The Washington Football Team placed seven new players on its growing COVID-19 list, including backup quarterback Kyle Allen, defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis and receiver Cam Sims. The other additions: TE Sammis Reyes, OL Cornelius Lucas, S Darrick Forrest, LB Milo Eifler. They increase the team’s total COVID-19-affected group to 18 players, including starting cornerback Kendall Fuller and defensive tackle Jon Allen.

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In men’s college basketball, UCLA coach Mick Cronin missed the fourth-ranked Bruins’ game against Alabama State on Wednesday night because of COVID-19 protocols.

Associate head coach Darren Savino served as acting coach for the game.

Team spokesman Alex Timiraos had no further comment on Cronin.

The Bruins (8-1) will next play North Carolina on Saturday as part of the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas. Cronin’s status for that game wasn’t immediately known.