(Reuters) – An explosion of positive COVID-19 tests left three major North American sports leagues scrambling to control outbreaks on Wednesday, as the threat of widespread schedule disruptions loomed larger and fans faced the prospect of again being barred from arenas.
Despite soaring positive tests the National Football League has not cancelled any games but with close to 100 players going on the COVID protocol list this week some of the sport’s biggest names looked poised to miss action, including Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Of the NFL’s 32 teams as of Wednesday 22 had at least one player in COVID protocol.
While touring Kentucky tornado damage on Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden came upon a woman in Green Bay Packers gear and after consoling her, turned the subject to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has resisted getting vaccinated and missed a game this season after contracting the virus.
“God love you and tell that quarterback to get some vaccine,” Biden said.
The National Hockey League, already dealing with a backlog of postponed games, was bracing for more headaches as the Nashville Predators, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames confirmed players and staff have been forced into COVID-19 protocols.
Along with postponements some Canadian teams will be playing future games to half-filled arenas after the Canadian and Ontario provincial governments announced new restrictions on Wednesday to combat the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant.
The NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators and NBA Toronto Raptors will see attendance reduced to 50%.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE), owners of the Leafs and Raptors, said in a statement anyone attending will have to adhere to strict mask-wearing protocols or risk ejection.
“As announced by the province this afternoon, capacities for events at MLSE venues, including Maple Leaf and Raptors games at Scotiabank Arena, will be reduced to fifty percent capacities effective Saturday as we all work together to prioritize public health with increasing COVID-19 cases in Ontario,” said MLSE in a statement.
With COVID-19 running rampant through their locker room the Flames confirmed on Wednesday that seven additional players and seven support staff were added to the pandemic protocol.
Calgary had on Monday placed six players in protocol, followed by the NHL postponing all Flames games through Thursday.
With almost the entire Flames team in protocol the NHL said on Wednesday it was delaying Calgary’s return to the ice until at least through Dec. 18.
The NBA on Monday saw its first games of the season postponed when 10 Chicago Bulls players and additional staff members were placed in health and safety protocols forcing the rescheduling of two contests.
(This story refiles to correct spelling of Carroll in reporting credits, no change to story text)
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Additional reporting Rory Carroll and Amy Tennery; Editing by Stephen Coates)