Leagues close locker rooms over virus concerns

MIAMI — The NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer are closing access to locker rooms and clubhouses to all non-essential personnel in response to the coronavirus crisis, the leagues announced in a joint statement Monday night.

The leagues said they made the decision “after consultation with infectious disease and public health experts.” The NBA, in a call with teams earlier Monday, stressed that the move is not to ban reporters but to ensure the safety of players and staff in those areas.

The statement, in part, read: “Given the issues that can be associated with close contact in pre- and post-game settings, all team locker rooms and clubhouses will be open only to players and essential employees of teams and team facilities until further notice. Media access will be maintained in designated locations outside of the locker room and clubhouse setting.”

The changes, which the leagues say are temporary, will begin Tuesday — though some NHL teams began closing their locker rooms to the media over the weekend, with player availability at practices and after games held outside the room or, in many cases, at news conference room podiums. The NBA said interviews with players would continue in settings other than the locker room, stressing a gap of 6-to-8 feet between reporters and interview subjects.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness might take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 80,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 58,000 have so far recovered.

Meanwhile, there is already a clear sense of the new normal in the U.S.

“Roses are red, Violets are blue, Wash your hands! WASH YOUR HANDS!” Enes Kanter of the Boston Celtics wrote on Twitter.

The Miami Heat held their annual gala at a theater in Miami Beach on Monday night, albeit a bit differently than usual. The team’s three NBA championship trophies were near the entrance — with someone standing by with a bottle of hand sanitizer. And guests, when they arrived, were offered champagne by some attendants, more hand sanitizer by others.

“Until the league says something else, we are business as usual with a tremendous amount of caution and prevention to make sure everybody’s safe,” Heat president Pat Riley said Monday night. “But also, educating them that they’ve got to do the same thing.”

The NBA has calls with team medical staffs scheduled for later Monday night and a call between league officials and team owners scheduled for Wednesday to discuss next steps. The NBA told teams last week to prepare for the possibility of playing games in empty arenas, something the game’s biggest star — Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James — insists he does not want to see.

“I doubt that that’s going to happen,” Riley said. “But you have to be prepared.”

MLB officials, like the NBA, held a conference call with all 30 major league franchises on Monday to discuss the new policies. All four leagues — and the NFL, which has been involved in the talks but isn’t part of this policy since no teams are currently holding practices — are collecting information from the CDC and Canadian health officials, even as the situation changes almost on an hour-by-hour basis.

“We are regularly conveying the guidance from these experts to clubs, players, and staff regarding prevention, good hygiene practices and the latest recommendations related to travel,” MLB said in a statement. “We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary. While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.”

More than 113,000 people worldwide have tested positive for the disease and over 3,900 people with the virus have died, most of them in China. More than 62,000 people have already recovered. The virus has infected 600 people in the United States — including the director of the agency that runs the airports in New York and New Jersey — and at least 26 have died, most in Washington state.

The professional writers associations for NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS, as well as the Pro Football Writers of America and the Associated Press Sports Editors, responded to the closure with their own joint statement.

“We are concerned with the developing international outbreak of coronavirus and the need to contain it. We understand precautions may be necessary in the name of public health. We are intent on working with the leagues, teams and schools we cover to maintain safe work environments,” they said. “We also must ensure the locker room access — which we have negotiated over decades — to players, coaches and staff is not unnecessarily limited in either the short or long term.”

Some NCAA Division III men’s basketball games this past weekend were played without crowds because of concerns over the virus. At least one college hockey playoff series this coming weekend in Troy, New York, between RPI and Harvard also will be played without fans.

The Associated Press and ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski contributed to this report.

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