NFL to punish teams whose unvaccinated players cause outbreaks
USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones breaks down the NFL’s COVID-19 outbreak protocols this season.
Citing the spread of the delta variant of COVID-19, the NFL Players Association plans on recommending to the NFL that testing of players and staff members increase in frequency.
In a memo issued to players on Wednesday, union officials said they will propose that vaccinated players and staff members receive COVID-19 testing each day they enter team facilities. The proposal also would reduce the amount of team staffers allowed in the locker room.
The union also raised the possibility of imposing mask requirements for players and staff members regardless of vaccination status.
NFL and NFLPA protocols currently require vaccinated players and staff members to receive testing once every 14 days, while unvaccinated players must receive daily testing.
Vaccinated individuals wouldn’t have to wait to receive their results before entering the building, the union said. And testing on off days and during bye weeks would not be required.
However, NFL officials later on Wednesday said they’re not yet convinced such an increase in testing is necessary.
Chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said that testing frequency does increase when vaccinated individuals have come into close contact with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. Teams require those vaccinated players or coaches to test for consecutive days as a safety precaution.
But for now, the league’s medical team remains in a fact-finding stage.
“We’re collecting a lot of data, and we’ll continue to share that data with our experts, and as we gather that data – if we think we need that, then that’ll be a discussion with the NFLPA,” Sills said.
The doctor also disagreed with the NFLPA’s classification of outbreaks within the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons organizations.
While he wouldn’t discuss either situation specifically, Sills did say, “We have seen situations where we’ve had multiple cases within one team. That’s very different from an outbreak, which we would classify as uncontrolled spread and difficulty tracking where it’s coming from. … So, I do not agree that we’re having any outbreak in any of our clubs at this point.”
The stance marks a significant change for the NFLPA. Less frequent testing ranked among the incentives previously mentioned by the league and players association when urging players to receive the vaccine.
However, union officials believe more strenuous testing is in the best interest of all parties.
“We have consistently stated that football will go the way of our communities, and multiple cities and states are experiencing record surges in infections and hospitalizations due to the Delta variant,” a portion of the NFLPA memo read. “Based on our experience from last year, the number of positive tests in the first week of training camp is cause for concern.”
According to the union, tests have been administered to 2,528 players and 4,549 staff members since the start of training camp on July 25, and 65 positive cases have arisen. Of those cases, 32 positives are among vaccinated individuals.
On Tuesday, the NFL said that 90% of its players had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.
Citing CDC findings that the delta variant is 50% more contagious than the alpha strain of COVID-19, the NFLPA went on to say that increased restrictions represented the best possible safeguard.
“Based on the guidance of our medical experts and what we know about this new variant, this is the best defense we have to prevent infections and protect you and your families, while also executing a full season,” the memo read.