OKLAHOMA CITY (REUTERS, AFP) - Despite earlier plans to the contrary, the Oklahoma City Thunder will not have fans in attendance for their home games when the National Basketball Association (NBA) season begins, the team announced on Monday (Nov 30).
The decision came about three weeks after the team announced they expected to have protocols in place to allow for reduced seating capacity at Chesapeake Energy Center, which normally can hold just over 18,000.
"However, as we review ongoing and concerning trends in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in Oklahoma, we want to exercise an abundance of caution to help control the spread of the virus in our community," the team's front office released in a statement. "Therefore, the Thunder has made the decision to begin the season without fans in the arena."
According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the state has seen more than 197,000 cases of Covid-19 (including 23,227 last week), with more than 1,700 deaths.
NBA players began daily Covid-19 tests over the weekend under health and safety procedures outlined by the league to clubs. The guide, unveiled on Saturday, details protocols regarding the upcoming campaign, which is set to start on Dec 22.
Pre-season contests will open from Dec 11 and training camps will launch next week.
Last season was completed in a bio-secure "bubble" in Orlando after being halted in March by the Covid-19 pandemic. This season will see 72 games per club which are to be staged at empty home arenas.
Individual workouts through Monday will be voluntary, followed by required individual workouts from Tuesday to Saturday and required group workouts set for Dec 6-10.
Among the key provisions of the protocols, which mention no criteria that might cause the NBA to suspend the season, were a small number of cases or independent Covid-19 positives not requiring a season shutdown.
Anyone testing positive can return to work by going 10 or more days after the first positive test or onset of symptoms or produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
Any player who tests positive, even if without symptoms, must wait 10 days and then be monitored in solo workouts for two more days before returning to the team.
An anonymous tip line will be established to report possible safety protocol violations, something that was also used in the Orlando bubble.
Team travel parties will be limited to 45 people, 17 of them players, as they visit arenas across the nation.
The NBA has not released its regular-season schedule, although the first games are to be played on Dec 22.