NFL Changes COVID Testing Protocols

Official Wilson NFL ball
Official NFL football. | Image from by_nicholas

The NFL modified its COVID-19 testing protocols. Moving forward, only players who are unvaccinated or showing possible symptoms will be tested.

Previously, vaccinated players were tested weekly even if they were not showing symptoms. The new protocol does not change anything for unvaccinated players. They will continue to be tested daily. Also, higher-risk players will have the option to opt out of the new policy and continue being tested.

The move comes following a wave of positive tests across the league that forced three games to be rescheduled. The league was forced to move the Las Vegas-Cleveland game to the following Monday and the Washington-Philadelphia and Seattle-Los Angeles games to the following Tuesday.

“Medical information strongly indicates that this variant is significantly more contagious but possibly less severe than prior variants, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the memo announcing the change sent to NFL teams.

“While more players and staff are testing positive, roughly two-thirds of those individuals are asymptomatic, most of the remaining individuals have only mild symptoms, and the virus appears to clear positive individuals more rapidly than was true with the Delta or earlier variants,” the memo reads.

The Cleveland Browns were particularly hit hard. An outbreak will have them without 23 players and head coach Kevin Stefanski. The players out included starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and backup quarterback Case Keenum.

The Washington Football Team and Los Angeles Rams also suffered outbreaks, with both teams listing 17 players on their COVID list, with Washington also having their top two quarterbacks on the list.

The Dallas Cowboys avoided an outbreak going into their matchup with the New York Giants. All week, their only positive case was receiver Cedrick Wilson, who tested positive, but then cleared the protocol and was activated for the game by Friday.

Then, on Saturday, the Cowboys were forced to add interior defensive linemen Trysten Hill and Osa Odighizuwa to the COVID list. Their absence left the team very thin on the defensive line, but it did not affect the outcome, as they won 21-6.

However, the Cowboys have dealt with their share of COVID issues throughout the season. An outbreak amongst the coaching staff left the team without head coach Mike McCarthy and several key assistants in a Thursday night game against the New Orleans Saints.

Overall, Dallas has seen 22 players miss at least one game due to the coronavirus.

The league’s COVID protocols are incredibly dense. A 100-page report provided to teams contains the entire list of regulations to deal with the virus. When a player tests positive for COVID, their vaccination status determines their path to returning to action.

When a vaccinated person tests positive and is asymptomatic, they are isolated and only allowed to return once they produce two negative tests 24 hours apart.

When an unvaccinated player tests positive, that person is isolated for a mandatory 10-day period. After the mandatory isolation period, the player can return to action if asymptomatic.

Additionally, unvaccinated players are subject to a mandatory 5-day isolation period if they are deemed close contact with someone who tests positive with COVID. In contrast, vaccinated players are not subject to any isolation period if they are considered close contact.

The league hopes that outbreaks will decrease with the relaxed testing policies. The playoffs are just a few weeks away. The new approach to testing will reduce the chances of games critical for playoff seeding needing to be rescheduled.

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