As Lightning experience positive coronavirus tests, questions become bigger for NHL


Updated: 8:12 p.m.

As the Flyers and other NHL clubs continued their Phase 2 work this week, the Lightning had to close their training facilities after three players and additional staff members tested positive Thursday for the coronavirus.

In a statement Friday afternoon, the Lightning said their facilities will remain temporarily shut down, while the "players have been self-isolated following CDC protocols and are asymptomatic other than a few cases of low-grade fever."

Tampa Bay, Florida, is a little over a 30-minute drive from Clearwater, Florida, where the Phillies had five players and three staff members recently test positive. According to Florida's department of health, the state has seen a spike in coronavirus cases.

The NHL released the following update Friday night:

Since NHL clubs were permitted to open their training facilities on June 8, all players entering these facilities for voluntary training have been subject to mandatory testing for COVID-19. Through today, in excess of 200 players have undergone multiple testing. A total of 11 of these players have tested positive. All players who have tested positive have been self-isolated and are following CDC and Health Canada protocols.

The NHL will provide a weekly update on the number of tests administered to players and the results of those tests. The league will not be providing information on the identity of the players or their clubs.

Also, according to a report Friday by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Phase 2 of the NHL's return-to-play plan started last week and consists of voluntary small-group individualized training activities at team practice facilities. On Thursday, assistant general manager Brent Flahr confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia that the Flyers had about eight to nine players return to the Skate Zone facility in Voorhees, New Jersey, and the team expected those numbers to grow next week and beyond.

It's uncertain if the recent developments with the Lightning will impact the decisions of Flyers players or the team. Next week will certainly be a telling one if there are more positive cases across the NHL. The league has targeted July 10 for the start of formal training camps (Phase 3) in preparation for its 24-team return-to-play tournament. The date for resuming play (Phase 4) remains to be determined as the NHL still has big decisions to make, decisions that will become more difficult if its teams experience more positive cases.

If/when there's a resumption of play in two hub cities, the isolation of players and staff is expected to be much greater, as is the frequency of testing.

"In terms of what we’re hearing from our medical advisors on the possibility of a positive test, obviously everybody in this environment is going to be tested very, very frequently on a daily basis," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in late May during a video interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia's Michael Barkann. "The players will all be tested before they go back to their rooms at night, we’ll have those test results turned around before they leave their rooms in the morning. If we have a positive test, we’ll get the person involved the appropriate medical care, we’ll isolate them right away. We have been told by our advisors that depending on the circumstances, it doesn’t necessarily mean a whole team has to be quarantined, it won’t necessarily shut down the entire tournament, so we’re working on that assumption right now. Obviously if we start to get multiple positives or an outbreak type of situation, it’s an entirely different analysis."

The health and safety of everyone involved should trump everything else. Next week will be a big one for the NHL as July gets closer.

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