The Chicago Bulls aren’t yet clear of COVID-19’s relentless rout of the roster after Alex Caruso became the 18th member of the team to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols this season.
Caruso entered the protocols Wednesday morning ahead of what was meant to be his first contact practice with teammates since suffering a left foot sprain against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 20. He will follow an updated return-to-play protocol the league enacted after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened its guidelines for quarantine periods. Asymptomatic players can be cleared after six days of isolation rather than the previous 10.
Coach Billy Donovan said Caruso will continue recovery during his isolation period, but Donovan was uncertain how COVID-19 would affect the guard’s timeline to return.
“He was doing really, really well and we were hoping to have him in practice today,” Donovan said. “I don’t know how long (this) will last.”
The Bulls thought they were clear from the outbreak on Dec. 23, when all 11 of the players who previously tested positive during December — including Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan — had returned to availability. But that peace lasted only a day as Donovan entered protocols the next day, swiftly followed by Lonzo Ball and three other teammates.
Assistant coach Josh Longstaff also entered the protocols last week and center Nikola Vu?evi? underwent a bout with the virus back in November, bringing the total to 18 players and coaches. The Bulls are second to the Boston Celtics in total game minutes missed by players because of COVID-19 absences.
Every full-time member of the Bulls roster is vaccinated and most of the team received booster shots, according to Donovan and Vu?evi?. Symptoms throughout the team have been mostly mild or nonexistent, although some players such as Coby White and Tony Bradley experienced stronger cold-like symptoms such as a fever and headache.
The league upped requirements for booster shots at the start of 2022. The United Center also began requiring proof of vaccination Monday for fans in attendance.
The Bulls now face a challenging stretch after postponed games were rescheduled into January and February, resulting in six sets of back-to-backs before the All-Star break. They’ll begin this stretch without the defensive contributions of Caruso and Javonte Green, who is sidelined for two to four weeks with a groin injury.
“It’s been amazing what’s happened,” Donovan said. “Right before Christmas, I said, ‘Oh, this is going to be good, we’re going to get our guys coming back.’ And then I went down and couple other guys went down and it’s like, all right, I probably misspoke that day.
“A lot of our guys had to deal with this and I’m hopeful that at one point we can get really, really whole as a team. I just don’t know when that’s going to be.”