Drastic times call for drastic measures, and times surely are drastic in the NFL right now. Coronavirus cases are rising all over the league, which has forced the adapt its health and safety protocols. These protocols are a throwback to last year’s: the league is basically returning to lockdown mode.
The NFL was forced to introduce harsh measures after 122 players had to be sent to the reserve/Covid-19 list this week already. Two of those are members of the New England Patriots: offensive lineman Yasir Durant and tight end Dalton Keene.
With Durant, Keene and dozens of others testing positive, and with the new Omicron variant marking its arrival in the league, the NFL was forced to take action. On Thursday it therefore made the following announcement:
Throughout the pandemic we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff. The changes we are making today aim to address the increase in cases and the advent of the Omicron variant. Effective immediately, all clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel. We will continue to strongly encourage booster shots as the most effective protection. Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from Covid-19. All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community.
As noted in the statement, the NFL’s new protocol changes have taken effect immediately and will remain in place through the conclusion of Week 15. Potential modifications beyond Week 15 are being discussed by the league and the players association.
The protocols themselves cover the following areas:
Meetings: In-person meetings for members of personnel Tiers 1 and 2 — including players and coaches — are prohibited. The only exception is outdoor meetings or those taking place inside a practice bubble, if physical distancing is possible. All other meetings will be conducted virtually.
Masks: Regardless of vaccination status, all players and other staff have to wear masks when indoors at the club facility. Masks will not be required outdoors or while working in the practice bubble (i.e. during practice).
Weight rooms: No more than 15 players are allowed to work out at the same time. Vaccination status, once again, does not matter.
Return from quarantine: Fully vaccinated players now have more options to “test out” after being diagnosed with Covid-19, and thus return from quarantine in less than 10 days. Besides their vaccination status the key is that they are asymptomatic for at least 24 hours and produce a series of negative tests, including, among others, ones that show a CT value of 35 or greater.
The league also introduced other policies — no visitors at team hotels, no eating together in the meal rooms, no appearances at charity events or social gatherings — but the main ones are those mentioned above. Together they create an environment that should make it harder for the virus to spread once inside the building, but for vaccinated players to be able to return to the field sooner than previously.
It remains to be seen how the protocols work, but they are another step taken to fight Covid-19. Just recently, the league introduced new vaccination requirement for Tier 1 and Tier 2 staffers: they need to receive their booster shot by December 27, or lose privileges associated with the respective tiers.