Vaccinated NBA players can now return sooner

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Vaccinated NBA players and coaches who are asymptomatic can now clear quarantine after six days if COVID-19 testing data shows they’re no longer at risk to be infectious, according to a memo distributed to teams Monday and obtained by ESPN.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association agreed to the changes that will replace a protocol requiring league personnel to wait 10 days to test out of quarantine on a return to competition. The new protocol includes players, coaches, staff and referees.

Individuals also can still test out of quarantine with two negative results 24 hours apart.

NBA players are testing positive and heading into quarantine at an unprecedented rate. As of Monday afternoon, 205 players have entered the league’s health and safety protocols this season, with 192 coming in December and 169 in the past two weeks. Six NBA head coaches have entered protocols this season, all in December.

Twenty-seven players entered protocols on Sunday, a new single-day high for the season, eclipsing the previous high of 17 on Dec. 17 and Dec. 23. Sunday marked the 11th day in the past 13 in which there have been double-digit player additions to the protocols list.

The league started a two-week stretch of increased post-Christmas testing, which is expected to continue to return a significant number of positive tests.

This reduction in quarantine time is expected to immediately impact the status of numerous players who are already in the protocols.

Players are considered to have tested positive on Day Zero, so they would actually be back to play on the seventh day if they meet the new standard. Data shows that individuals who are boosted continue to clear the virus out of their system at a far more rapid rate than those who aren’t, league sources told ESPN.

The decision to shorten the quarantine to six days, sources said, is based on expert research and data — including the league’s own — indicating that no one with a cycle threshold (CT) over 35 has shown to be infectious again after five or six days, sources said.

CT measures how many times a test has to cycle to find the virus in an individual. For example, a 35 CT is fainter than a 20 CT. The NBA and NBPA have relied on data from the league’s own infectious-disease experts, the CDC and models and research in the United Kingdom.

Along with relying on its own experts, the NBA also considers guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which on Monday announced that it would shorten its recommended isolation period for those who test positive from COVID to five days from 10 if they are asymptomatic.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver recently told ESPN’s Malika Andrews on The NBA Today that the omicron variant was responsible for as much as 90% of the league’s recent COVID cases.

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