Major League Soccer is hoping for a more normal 2021 season, but even with vaccinations accelerating across the country, Covid-19 promises to be an ever-present factor throughout the year.
To that end, the league has provided updated health and safety protocols for 2021.
The protocols hope to stem the numbers of positive Covid-19 tests, which hampered the league’s return to play in 2020, and still impact operations as MLS hopes to play a relatively uninterrupted season.
According to a release from the league, the polices and protocols were developed by MLS’s medical department, “in consultation with infectious disease specialists and based on guidance from government health authorities, as well as in collaboration with the MLS Players Association.”
The league also provided a detailed manual which outlines everything from charter flight and transportation policies, face masks, prohibited activities and more. While MLS was able to complete its season last year with relatively few interruptions, the league did suffer a number of headaches. Most notably, FC Dallas and Nashville SC were unable to compete in the MLS is Back Tournament, the Colorado Rapids were forced to suspend play for a month, and the Columbus Crew had to play MLS Cup without several starters due to multiple positive tests.
While the league anticipates getting most of its staff vaccinated in the near future, the guidance will still be in effect for the foreseeable future. Highlights of the updated policy include:
Team delegations will continue to travel via charter flights during the pandemic. In addition, clubs must limit bus capacities to 50% for travel and transfers with seating configured to provide as many seats, rows, and free space between passengers as possible. The charter travel policy is similar to last year, when the league chartered players to all games once they returned to play and it is likely the league will charter flights for the entirety of the 2021 season.
Face Masks and PPE
Any individual entering club facilities, including all players and other essential personnel, are required to wear face masks and, where appropriate, additional personal protective equipment (PPE). Players are not required to wear face masks at the following times:
- When training or playing matches
- During meals or hydration while maintaining physical distancing
- When not able to do so during indoor cardiovascular activities, due to a medical safety issue as determined in the clinical judgment of club medical staff, in which players can’t physically distance.
High-risk behavior includes engaging in activities where physical distancing is not observed between different groups and/or face masks are not worn by all participants. Players or staff members who have engaged in high-risk behavior will be required to quarantine for five days, unable to participate in group training or matches and must submit to daily testing for 14 days.
High-risk behavior includes travel on commercial airlines, attendance at nightclubs or bars, hosting house parties, eating meals at restaurants indoors, attending events where physical/social distancing cannot be observed such as indoor music or entertainment events or attendance at events prohibited by local government laws.
While MLS will not be requiring that players or staff be vaccinated, it is fair to say that the stance of the league is to encourage all employees be vaccinated. According to the guidance provided by the league, employees who have been vaccinated will be exempt from having to observe the quarantine period should they come into contact with someone who is defined as a “High-Risk Close Contact,” though they will have to continue to submit to daily testing for 14 days following any high-risk exposure.
Testing for players confirmed positive for COVID-19
Those players confirmed positive for COVID-19 will continue to be required to undergo the following cardiac testing prior to being cleared by their medical staff and returning to workouts or training:
- High-sensitivity troponin testing (or troponin I or T if high-sensitivity troponin);
- Standard 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG); and
- Two-dimensional resting echocardiogram to assess left ventricular function.
In each case, the results of the player’s cardiac testing will be reviewed by the Club’s Chief Medical Officer and Club Consulting Cardiologist.