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Despite at least 94% of players vaccinated, the NBA, NFL, and NHL forced to cancel games, change COVID-19 protocols, and welcome unvaccinated players during latest spike of cases

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The major professional sports leagues in the U.S. are being forced to cancel a slew of games, alter COVID-19 protocols, and allow a once-shunned unvaccinated superstar to return to action because of a rash of COVID-19 cases amongst the players, despite being nearly 100% vaccinated against coronavirus.

The NFL changes COVID-19 protocols

Despite 94.6% of NFL players being fully vaccinated, there were 58 players who tested positive for COVID-19 between Nov. 28 and Dec. 11. NFL personnel are 100% vaccinated, but there were 50 cases in the same time period.

Cases have surged even higher this week, forcing the NFL to postpone three games in Week 15.

"The NFL hit a single-day high of 36 positive tests among players Monday," The Hill reported. "By Wednesday, the COVID-19 list grew to at least 90 players."

The Los Angeles Rams currently have 29 players who either tested positive for COVID-19 this week or were still on the reserve/COVID-19 list from last week, according to ESPN. The Cleveland Browns have 24 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The Washington Football Team have 23 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke and backup Kyle Allen.

The National Football League will attempt to tackle the flood of COVID-19 cases by ending the mandate for weekly COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic vaccinated players. However, the NFL will penalize unvaccinated players – who will continue to have to test daily.

NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero wrote, "The revised NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 protocols will end regular weekly testing of asymptomatic, fully vaccinated individuals."

Pelissero noted that "over 150 (mostly asymptomatic) players" tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week.

NHL cancels games for an entire week for 3 teams

The National Hockey League is postponing all games for a week for three franchises because of rising COVID-19 cases. The Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, and Florida Panthers have had their games postponed through Dec. 26, according to the Sporting News. The Flames have 18 players and coaches out of action because of COVID-19 protocols, the Panthers have seven, and the Avalanche have five players.

The NHL made the decision "due to concern with the number of positive cases within the last two days as well as concern for continued COVID spread in the coming days," the league said in a statement.

Additionally, the next two games for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks are also canceled after nine players tested positive for COVID-19.

NHL players are nearly 100% vaccinated. There are 32 NHL teams with a maximum of 23 players for a potential of 736 players in the league. There is only one unvaccinated NHL player in the entire league – Tyler Bertuzzi of the Detroit Red Wings.

NBA team does a 180 to welcome unvaccinated star back

The Brooklyn Nets welcomed 7-time All-Star Kyrie Irving back to the team on Friday, despite him being unvaccinated. Irving was booted from the team in the preseason for not being vaccinated and has yet to play in any regular-season NBA games.

New York City's COVID-19 vaccine mandate would prohibit Irving from playing in Nets' home games at the Barclays Center, but he could still participate in most road games.

However, the Nets have been obliterated by a swarm of COVID-19 cases this week. The Nets only had eight active players – the minimum number of players for a game to be played – when Brooklyn hosted the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. The team has a total of 10 players on the sidelines because of positive COVID-19 tests, including stars Kevin Durant, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Irving.

The Chicago Bulls also had 10 players test positive for COVID-19, which caused them to postpone two games this week. Even Bulls broadcasters Stacey King and Bill Wennington were forced into isolation due to the NBA's COVID-19 protocols, which states that players and personnel must quarantine for 10 days or until they return two negative PCR tests within a 24-hour window.

The widespread outbreak of COVID-19 comes at a time when 97% of the league's players are fully vaccinated.

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