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We Have to Find a Way: Letang Evolving on Testing, NHL Caught Between Countries

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby

The NFL and NBA have moved to different COVID testing measures and procedures. For better, worse, and unknown, the sports leagues based in the U.S. have in part waved a white flag to mass COVID testing and are instead using a targeted approach. Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman and NHLPA rep Kris Letang didn’t signal full support for such a measure in the NHL, but he probably gave the most honest answer.

Like the rest of us, he doesn’t really know. Fortunately, the six Penguins in COVID protocol are doing well.

“For the most part, everybody is doing very well. There are a couple of the guys that have mild, almost like cold-like symptoms, but most of them are doing very well. There’s a handful of them that are asymptomatic, so none of them to this point have anything significant,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of the Penguins sextet of COVID positives.

Recent statistics from New York show a mixed bag of results. The good news about the Omicron variant is that it’s weaker than its Delta predecessor. However, new examinations show it’s twice as powerful as the original and far more transmissible. Vaccinated individuals are hospitalized far less than unvaccinated persons by somewhere between a 6-1 and 9-1 ratio. Fortunately, fewer infected people need hospitalization, but there’s such a high volume of cases that hospitalizations are overtaxing again.

So, take from those results what you will; vaccinated people are far less likely to be hospitalized or, you know, dead. But, this new virus strain is too easy to contract.

In British Columbia, you can see the rise in hospitalizations as of Dec. 9, before Omicron landed with both feet. The correct word is “ugh,” but you can also see where NHL players can make a case–they’re on the right side of the graph (literally and figuratively).

 

The Vaccinated Players’ Argument:

All NHL players, except for one, are vaccinated, and most are also believed to be boostered. But that doesn’t quell the daily uncertainty of not knowing if you will play your next game or where you report to work on a day-to-day basis. Or even the uncertainty of who will be allowed to come to work. It’s a chaotic daily grind, and millions of people are watching.

So, what in the hell can they do?

The NFL and NBA lessened testing requirements. They’re target testing, and vaccinated players test far less. While some may advocate a similar approach for the NHL, the Canadian government also gets a say.

“There are so many things that I think we don’t know that have to be dealt with behind the scenes,” Kris Letang said. “I think the Canadian border is maybe an issue about testing…”

Correct, not all countries agree on how to proceed. Canada has a pretty good anti-vax population in Alberta but generally applies stricter measures than the U.S., and Canada has every right to levy the measures it feels necessary. With seven teams within its borders, the NHL must balance the two approaches and two governments.

For a world already dealing with COVID exhaustion, it’s yet another challenge. Letang sounded like a person who’s evolving his position.

“…I was the guy that when COVID started two years ago, I was big on testing and as of now, I’m trying to see it positively, that it brings something,” Letang admitted. “But at the end of the day, I think it’s going to stay like this. You know, COVID is not going to disappear tomorrow, so we have to find a way to be able to do our job.”

While writing this story on Monday evening, the United States CDC surprisingly lowered its requirement for asymptomatic individuals to quarantine for five days, down from 10. Almost immediately, the NBA announced asymptomatic coaches and players could test out of protocol after six days if they showed small enough virus levels not to be considered contagious.

In college athletics, the ACC immediately shortened its quarantine period for vaccinated individuals, too.

And it seems like other leagues are doing something different. And it looks like it’s working. So I’m pretty sure that the league’s going to look into the different standard, different protocols to make sure we can play in a safe environment,” Letang concluded.

As COVID cases are climbing around the NHL, more games are being postponed, and the threat of more is rising. The NHL can hold its ground in hopes the storm passes. It can institute more drastic measures or follow the other leagues with less restrictive measures.

It seems like Kris Letang, who gets to have input on such matters, is also suffering the same exhaustion we all feel. Unfortunately, the only consensus is no consensus.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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