NBA eyes strict rules for unvaccinated players

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Unvaccinated NBA players will have lockers as far away as possible from their vaccinated teammates and will have to eat, fly and ride buses in different sections as part of the league’s anticipated health and safety protocols, which were released to teams Thursday in a memo obtained by ESPN.

The rules are not final and subject to ongoing talks with the National Basketball Players Association, but the guidelines make clear that vaccinated and unvaccinated players will have very different off-court experiences during the upcoming season.

Unvaccinated players will have to undergo testing on gamedays and practice days, and depending on team schedules, could have to test twice on some gamedays. Vaccinated players will not undergo daily testing and will only be tested if they have symptoms themselves or are exposed to someone confirmed as COVID-19 positive.

If an unvaccinated player is deemed a close contact to someone positive, he will have to enter a mandatory seven-day quarantine. Vaccinated players are not currently anticipated to face quarantine if they are a close contact but don’t test positive.

At team meals, the memo calls for unvaccinated players to not sit next to vaccinated teammates and to be at least six feet away from others. The same rules apply for team meetings.

On flights, the memo says unvaccinated players may be required to be in a section of the plane reserved for team staffers, which often could mean less roomy seating. On buses, unvaccinated players would have to sit away from other players or in a separate bus from vaccinated players.

The NBA informed teams last week that all coaches and staff members, in addition to game night staff that work within 15 feet of players or referees, must be fully vaccinated. Also last week, the NBA and the referee’s union announced an agreement for all referees to be vaccinated.

Thursday’s memo also said the league hopes to secure an agreement with the union that would call for all players to be tested for COVID-19 antibodies as part of the preseason physicals.

Unvaccinated players who have documented recovery from the coronavirus within the previous six months may have some of the protocols relaxed, pending final approval.

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