With the start of 2021, anticipation continues to mount for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s opportunity to defend their Stanley Cup title. Among the other challenges the Lightning will face this season are the COVID-19 virus and the task of maintaining the same standards for player safety that were present in last season’s bubble environment.
For the benefit of the team and the Tampa area at-large, team leaders have been working in partnership with AdventHealth to implement new safety measures to maximize safety.
“We continue to monitor the COVID-19 virus and are focused on leading edge research, diagnosis and treatment in our communities,” Dr. Robert Rosequist, chief medical officer, AdventHealth Wesley Chapel and general practitioner for the Lightning, recently told Front Office Sports.
“We are honored to work with the Tampa Bay Lightning to help ensure the safety of those on the team, as well as fans and our community at large. We remain flexible and ready to pivot any of our safety guidelines and operations to ensure the safety of our community. We know that following simple measures such as wearing a mask, frequent hand washing and social distancing are effective at limiting the spread of the virus – any time you are out– and we encourage everyone to keep it up while we patiently wait for a vaccine to be distributed broadly to the public,” Rosequist said.
Within team facilities, the Lightning have implemented social distancing measures to limit the number of players who can take part in training at one time. Essential facility staff members also perform a detailed cleaning of the entire facility between each group of players and at the end of each day. In addition to being required to wear a mask at all times except while training or skating, anyone who enters the team’s facility must also receive a daily temperature and symptom check.
“Our players have been asked to follow and abide by the education that has been presented to them and follow recommended CDC guidelines for prevention and transmission of the virus,” Tom Mulligan, head athletics trainer told Front Office Sports. “They are to immediately report any instances of possible exposure to our team medical staff. Once again, education of the importance of following these guidelines is paramount and educating them of the importance of prevention and dangers of the virus.”
The protocols currently being followed are very similar to the protocols that were in place during the training camp phase leading up to the team’s departure for the bubble. The most obvious difference between this and being in the bubble is the greater risk of exposure to the general public. While it is difficult to eliminate all exposure risk factors, if there does happen to be a positive case, the hope is any transmission can quickly be contained by following the team’s guidelines.
Most arenas will not allow fans at the beginning of the season. The Lightning will work in conjunction with the National Hockey League and local governments to determine whether or not fans will be permitted into AMALIE Arena for games in the 2020-21 season.
“The health and safety of our players, employees and all arena guests remain our number one priority during this strange time and we will continue to make each of our decisions with those priorities in mind,” Mulligan stated. “We have been working for months on our return to play and arena reopening protocols, working with local health officials and governments. Additionally, we’d like to point out that millions of dollars in federal Cares Act funding has been allocated for the facility by Hillsborough County and those monies are being spent to ensure health and wellness of everyone attending events at AMALIE Arena.”
While a COVID-19 vaccine is in the midst of a nationwide rollout, the possibility that it will be widespread enough for a complete return to normalcy before the end of the season is low. Nevertheless, the Lightning look to maintain a high standard player safety throughout the upcoming campaign.
“While the hope of a successful vaccine on the horizon may allow players and staff to be vaccinated, we believe that social distancing, mask wearing and proper hygiene will still be the most crucial aspects of prevention,” Mulligan concluded.