In a move that clears one more hurdle to what’s expected to be a full NFL season for 2020-2021, the NFL players union has agreed to a new arrangement whereby players will be tested daily for coronavirus infections during the first two weeks of training camp. The players’ union had raised concerns about practices putting players at risk with the first set to begin in a week.
The decision comes after dozens of MLB and NBA players have tested positive, along with a smattering of soccer players and other athletes, as the coronavirus briefly shut down athletics around the world. Although the 2020 Olympics has been postponed, European soccer leagues have mostly re-started play.
The NFL preseason is set to begin mostly on time, with practices starting in late July, with the first games being held more than a month later.
The NFL Players Association told the press that 72 players have tested positive for the virus as of July 10. The spread across the population is risk enough to make players anxious about sharing locker rooms and other facilities, along with the physical contact that’s simply an essential part of the sport.
Here’s more from ESPN:
According to a memo obtained by ESPN, the NFL and the NFL Players Association will require daily COVID-19 testing for the first two weeks of training camp. After two weeks, if the positive test rate is below 5%, the league would scale back to testing every other day. If the positive test rate is not below 5%, they will continue with daily testing until such time as it falls below that number. If the positivity rate hits 5% or higher at any point, they go back to daily testing until it comes down again.
“This is ongoing work,” Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said. “There’s no finish line with health and safety, and I think these protocol are living, breathing documents, which means they will change as we get new information. They will undoubtedly be changing over time, which is what we usually see in medicine.”
Upon arriving at the team facility for the first time, players and team employees will be required to test negative twice before being allowed in. Basically, you show up on Day One, take a test, go home. You then must wait 72 hours before taking a second test. If both are negative, you can go into the building and get to work on Day 5.
“We recognize that, as players and coaches and staff come in, they’re going to be coming in from all over the country and in some cases the world,” Sills said. “So we want to take a slow approach here.”
The memo states that the testing rules – and the 5% threshold – will apply to all Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees for each team in the league. A June 7 memo sent to the teams by the league defined Tier 1 employees as all players and necessary personnel who must have direct access to players. It defined Tier 2 as “other essential personnel who may need to be in close proximity to players and other Tier 1 individuals and who may need to access restricted areas.”
Sills also said the league’s expectation is that test results will come back within 24 hours. The NFL has contracted with BioReference Laboratories to handle its tests and has said multiple times over the past several months that it wants to remain responsible about not taking up too large a share of the available tests in any market.
In other news, the NFL has reportedly assented to a Players’ Union demand that there be no pre-season games, in keeping with the notion that the season be as stripped-down as possible to minimize risk to players and team staff.
The proposal included an offer for a longer training and acclimation period, ESPN reported.
Some players have taken to Twitter to voice their concerns about the league’s decision to start training camps before an agreement on safety protocols have been reached. But the agreement should quiet those concerns.