Photo by Mufid Majnun (for more of Majnun’s work, go to https://unsplash.com/@mufidpwt)
September 30th, 2020
By Mufaddal Anis
COVID-19 has been a challenge that everyone has had to overcome this year, and major sports leagues have been no different. Different leagues addressed the issues in different ways. The NFL has had their protocols and safety precautions for the pandemic, and for the amount of players and staff who need to be tested multiple times every week, the results have been fairly impressive. But now the NFL faces their first major test.
A day before this past weekend’s matchups, the league was made aware that one Atlanta Falcons’ player, CB A.J. Terrell, had a tested positive for COVID-19. The player was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, and the game between the Falcons and the Bears went on as scheduled. Yesterday, news broke that 3 Tennessee Titans’ players and 6 coaches or employees had tested positive for the virus. Everyone in the Titans’ organization has been sent home to social distance, as has been done with their opponents from this past Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings. In light of this first outbreak, we thought it would be beneficial to discuss the protocols the NFL has in place to prevent COVID in its member clubs, and what it can do in the current situation of an outbreak.
Before an outbreak can occur, the virus has to somehow get through all of the preventative protocols the NFL has enacted for this season.
First things first: testing. Players, and everyone who may come in contact with players (coaches, medical staff, etc.) are tested every day except for game day. NFL referees are tested twice a week, once at home, and once before each game. If an individual has a positive test without symptoms, there are 2 ways they can get back to football. The first way is to go through a ten day quarantine period, and the second is to pass two COVID tests 24 hours apart, within five days of the original positive test. If a positive test is received with symptoms, the individual has to wait ten days from when the symptoms first appeared, and at least three days after the symptoms disappear.
Now let’s talk about facility protocols. Anytime a person enters a facility, they are screened with a temperature check and a questionnaire. Locker rooms are reconfigured to allow for social distancing, and new rigorous cleaning protocols are in place.
Contact tracing technology is also being used at every facility, with every player or staff member being required to wear a Proximity Recording Device (PRD) when in club facilities, practices, team travel, and games. The PRDs gather information about the personnel’s proximity to each other, specifically distance and time.
What Happens in an Outbreak
The first thing that happens in the event of an outbreak is that the infected players are isolated and everyone goes into virtual work mode. The Titans have said that they are barring all team personnel from the facility till Saturday.
Next, individuals who have been in close contact with the infected players are isolated. Close contact is defined as within six feet for more than 15 minutes. It is determined using the data from the PRDs mentioned above.
Now comes the tricky part: what happens if games need to be postponed and rescheduled? This obviously needs to be taken on a case by case basis. This morning news broke that the Titans vs Steelers game is going to be postponed until further notice. The rescheduling of the game all depends on the tests that come back. The game could be moved to Monday, or be moved to Week 7, and move the Steelers vs. Ravens game to Week 8, when both Pittsburgh and Baltimore have byes. A more creative approach would need to be taken in order to reschedule the Vikings vs. Texans game should that be required, but right now it seems that this game will go on as planned because no Vikings players or staff have tested positive to the virus.
Overall, the NFL has done an impressive job. I’m a huge fan of football and while I hoped that it did, I didn’t think we’d get this far into the season. I’m sure that they have contingencies in place for this small outbreak situation, and I’m sure the braintrust in New York is doing the best they can to resolve the quandary they are currently having.