No, this is not March 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic still poses a threat, and will continue to do so, but the medical field and infectious disease experts have learned plenty about the virus and its spread. Tools such as safe vaccines and masking options offer individual protection.
That means sports leagues will not shut down like they did 20 months ago. But with each passing day, it seems another sport or league is once again being affected by this pandemic, with postponements and infections. For example, 51 NFL players went on the COVID-19 reserve list Monday, including Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce.
Here is the latest in COVID-19 news and disruptions in the sports world:
NHL pausing season two days early
Due to the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases throughout the league, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed to start their Christmas break early.
The NHL plans to pause its season on Wednesday, two days before the originally scheduled holiday break from Dec. 24-26, the league confirmed Monday night.
Monday night’s game between the Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild was played as scheduled, but the other four games on the docket had been postponed. Two games remain on Tuesday’s schedule — Washington Capitals at Philadelphia Flyers (7 p.m. ET) and Tampa Bay Lightning at Vegas Golden Knights (10 p.m. ET) — and both are still a go, pending any additional positive tests.
There were originally 10 games slated for Tuesday, but some games between Canadian and American teams were already postponed because all cross-border games were put on pause.
The NHL and NHLPA agreed to postpone the five games that had remained on Thursday’s schedule during consultations Monday night. Players are set to report back to team facilities on Dec. 26 and resume daily testing. The NHL schedule is set to resume on Dec. 27.
Earlier Monday, the Columbus Blue Jackets were shut down because of a rising number of cases, and a pair of Tuesday games — New Jersey Devils at Pittsburgh Penguins and Arizona Coyotes at Seattle Kraken — were also called off because of COVID issues on the Devils and Kraken.
Louisville-Kentucky men’s basketball game called off
The Louisville men’s basketball game Wednesday at Kentucky is postponed, and the Cardinals have paused basketball activities because of “multiple positive COVID-19 tests within the program,” the school announced Monday.
Louisville is coming off an 82-72 loss at Western Kentucky in which it played without starting center Malik Williams, who was absent from the team. Though Louisville did not name Williams, a spokesman said a player was not with the team due to COVID-19 protocols.
Women’s hockey: USA vs. Canada canceled
USA Hockey announced Monday that an exhibition between the U.S. women’s hockey team and Canada has been canceled due to “concerns around COVID-19.”
The series, which Canada currently leads 4-2, was scheduled to pick back up in Canada after the new year.
Rafael Nadal tests positive
Rafael Nadal said Monday he tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Spain from an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi last weekend.
The timing of the positive test potentially complicates Nadal’s plans for the Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 17. Nadal, 35, has played very little competitive tennis since last year’s French Open because of various injuries and was attempting to ramp back up in time for the first Grand Slam event of the season.
NBA allows for COVID-19 replacement players
According to multiple reports, NBA teams can sign one replacement player for each player that tests positive for the virus between now and Jan. 19. Organizations will be required to sign at least one replacement player in the event of two positive players.
Lineups across the league were decimated by roster restrictions over the weekend.
Sources: NBA teams will now be required to sign one replacement player when they have two positive tests on the roster. For three positive tests, two replacement signings are required. For four positive results or more, three hardship signings required. https://t.co/tOtwOLzyb4
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) December 20, 2021
Following a weekend of NBA stars testing positive for the virus, Golden State Warriors guard Andrew Wiggins – who received the COVID-19 vaccine after expressing much hesitancy – entered the health and safety protocols.
NFL teams face tall task in containing virus
As USA TODAY Sports columnist Jarrett Bell writes, “the NFL must brace for COVID-19 to wreak havoc on playoff ramifications before, during and throughout the run to Super Bowl 56 on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.”
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t clear protocol and will miss Monday night’s game against the Raiders. Nick Mullens will get the start.
But Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai was cleared and he will be available on Monday against the Vikings.
Two games will be played on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET: Washington vs. Philadelphia and Seattle vs. Los Angeles Rams.
Washington said six coaches and a coaching intern would not be available for the game against the Eagles.
Contributing: Dan Wolken, Brett Dawson