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Penguins Reverting to COVID Precautions to ‘Get on the Other Side of This Thing’



Pittsburgh Penguins, Mike Sullivan

The Pittsburgh Penguins are not taking two recent COVID positive tests lightly.

Last Monday, Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese tested positive for COVID and entered the NHL protocol. Six days later, Penguins winger Jake Guentzel also tested positive and was placed in the protocol. After the Penguins’ 5-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, head coach Mike Sullivan detailed the aggressive actions the team and its doctors are taking to prevent additional players from missing time.

“I think this is the reality of pro sports right now. Until the world gets a handle on this pandemic, we’re all trying to manage through it. And so, I’m not sure there’s a whole lot we can do about it other than just control what we can and react the right way,” Sullivan explained. “And so that’s the conversation that we’ve had with our players, and our hope is that we’re going to try to be proactive as a team with everybody’s health at the forefront.”

Last week, Sullivan said he believed Aston-Reese suffered mild symptoms. No update was available on Guentzel other than his positive test.

The Penguins renewed efforts to stem the spread was immediately evident as Sullivan wore a mask in his postgame press conference. Scientists are still studying the differentials between unvaccinated and vaccinated persons’ ability to spread the Delta variant. Scientific consensus and recent publications by Oxford show significant differences in transmission rates.

The Penguins begin the regular season nine days from Sunday on Oct. 12 in Tampa Bay. Aston-Reese will presumably exit the protocol by then. Guentzel is likely to be cleared, though because he’s inside 14 days until the game, it’s no guarantee.

“We’re already in the process of meeting with our team doctors and just talking about re-implementing some of the mitigation strategies that we utilized last year,” Sullivan said.

“And so, for example, we’re going to start testing our players every single day and our staff. So, everyone around the team at this point will test every single day here for the foreseeable future until we can get on the other side of this. … Even our coaching staff is talking about training and doing some of the things we did last year with respect to social distancing in the locker room and how we hold meetings where we can spread guys out and things just to try to mitigate it so that we can try to get on the other side of this thing.”

The COVID tests, at least those the Pittsburgh Penguins provided for the media on Friday, are not as cumbersome as the tests that felt like brain-scraping swabs from last season. There’s a small plus.

According to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania statistics, approximately 10% of COVID-positive persons suffer from the virus for more than 30 days. The state did not differentiate between vaccinated and unvaccinated persons in the statistic. Two percent of positive persons die (the state also reports 97% of COVID deaths, and 94% of hospitalized patients are unvaccinated).

On Sunday, Mark Spector of Sportsnet reported COVID will force former Penguins forward Josh Archibald out of the NHL for the foreseeable future. Complications from contracting the virus this summer led to a heart condition, myocarditis. The Edmonton Oilers will place the 28-year-old on LTIR. He was not yet vaccinated and was the second Edmonton player with COVID-caused myocarditis. Goalie Alex Stalock missed all of last season after suffering from both.

Given the Pittsburgh Penguins vaccination status, the worst-case scenarios are much less likely, but they’re not taking chances, either.

“…We’re going to do everything we can as a team. And it’s going to take cooperation from our players, our coaches, everyone involved in order to make it happen,” Sullivan said. “…So this is the world we live in right now, and hopefully, there’s some light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not going to be something that drags out all season long. If if we can get ahead of it right now, maybe we can go back to some semblance of some normalcy.”