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Lightning reportedly forced to close training facilities due to COVID-19 outbreak

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Three players and two staff reportedly test positive.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

According to reports this afternoon, the Tampa Bay Lightning had to close their training facilities due to an outbreak of COVID-19. Bob McKenzie reported that three players and two staff members have tested positive. Further testing is ongoing among other players and staff. What happens next largely depends on the outcome of that testing.

This is the first reported outbreak at an NHL facility since Phase Two of the return to play plan began last week. The outbreak at the Lightning facility was reported on the same day that MLB’s Philadelphia Phillies had to shut down their training facilities in Clearwater after a larger outbreak involving eight players and staff members. Clearly, the Tampa area is a hot spot right now and even with strict protocols in place for cleanliness and social distancing, teams are not able to prevent outbreaks.

In addition to the five players, three staff members have tested positive. The identities of those infected is not known.

A significant number of team personnel are awaiting test results so it’s possible the outbreak could worsen.

None of the eight people who have been infected have been hospitalized and the virus appears to be under control in all of them.

The Phillies’ spring training complex in Clearwater has been closed for the time being.

We will likely hear in the coming days whether more Lightning players and staff test positive. If not, it’s possible the team could resume Phase Two activities. If so, this may lead to a larger discussion on how feasible the return to play plan is.

It seems unlikely the league and its owners will be willing to forego the rest of the season given the potential implications for TV contract revenues. So if there is to be a pushback on resuming the season, expect it to come from the players if they feel that coming back to play presents too great a risk to their safety.

As of now, these positive tests raise more questions than answers. And that will likely be the case for at least the next few weeks as more players return to team activities and as the league and Players’ Association try to establish the ground rules around health and safety that would allow for games to resume.

If both parties agree to continue on this path, this will just be the first set of positive cases. It seems impossible to think the season can resume without more instances like this occurring. The question is whether the parties involved will accept that risk and push ahead or decide it isn’t worth it and take an indefinite hiatus until the US is able to do a better job of stopping the spread of the virus.