Ten month after the first official case was recorded in the United States, the Coronavirus pandemic is still not under control. Quite the opposite, actually: more than 166,000 new infections and almost 1,900 new deaths were reported on Wednesday as numbers continue to rise rapidly in all parts of the country, including in the New England region.
In response to this worrisome trend, and rising numbers within the league as well, the NFL has decided to place the entire league under its intensive Covid-19 protocol. Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 organizations on Wednesday, notifying them of the change (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):
Today, we are implementing further enhancements to our protocols to address current conditions, in particular the sharp growth in Covid-19 cases in our communities and the related increase in cases among our players and other club employees. The upcoming holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving next week, will introduce new risks of exposure that we need to address now.
Goodell’s statement also included data that clubs operating under intensive protocols have reduced close contacts “by more than 50 percent since the fifth week of the regular season.” All in all, 28 of the NFL’s 32 teams have utilized the protocols at least once, with 16 doing so on multiple occasions. The switch to implementing them on a full-time basis for the remainder of the year is therefore no major procedural change for most organizations.
So, what does all of this entail? The major points of the intensive protocols as provided by the NFL are as follows:
- Meetings: All meetings must either be held virtually or in a practice bubble. Masks and tracking devices need to be worn at all times, while physical distance has to be maintained.
- Practices and walkthroughs: All players and coaches have to wear either masks or faceshields, while helmets can only be removed if a distance of at least six feet is maintained.
- Weight room usage: Masks must be worn at all times, while only a maximum of 10 players and five staff members are permitted in the weight room at any given time.
- Cafeteria: No seating is permitted, while food and beverages can only be consumed in grab-and-go fashion.
The league also pointed out that masks need to be worn without exceptions when players, coaches and other personnel are in the facilities. Furthermore, in-person contact among players and personnel being classified as Tier 1 or Tier 2 outside of the facility is prohibited.
The New England Patriots are, of course, no strangers to the NFL’s intensive Coronavirus protocols.
While the team was among the last to make use of the Reserve/Covid-19 list, it was hit hard once it did: a total of eight players had to be isolated either as positive cases or high-risk close contacts — among them starters such as quarterback Cam Newton, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and offensive lineman Shaq Mason. While Gilmore did not miss any playing time following his diagnosis, Newton and Mason had to sit out one game each.
The Patriots no longer have any players on Reserve/Covid-19 after removing running back Sony Michel on October 31, but they were obviously still subject to league rules and protocols. Those just got a bit stricter for all clubs, which ideally will help the league finish the last two-and-a-half months up until the Super Bowl in early February.