As was the case all over the globe for the last several months, the Coronavirus was also the dominant storyline during the 2020 NFL season. Even though the league did not have to cancel any of its games, the pandemic still impacted how business was conducted both during the offseason — the draft and spring workouts were moved to a virtual forum, the preseason was canceled — and once the regular season was kicked off as well.
One part of this was daily testing in order to quickly detect any positive cases within the league’s players, coaches or other personnel. In total, as was announced by the NFL on Tuesday, 959,860 tests were administered between August 1st and February 6th.
Over this six month-period, a total of 726 people were diagnosed with Covid-19: 262 players as well ass 464 other personnel were confirmed as positive cases. In total, the rate of positive tests was 0.08 percent — clearly below the nationwide number of 8.2 percent.
That said, the rate of tests done within the NFL is obviously different than that across the country: few people outside the league were tested on a daily basis since the outbreak of the pandemic in the United States. Nevertheless, the numbers released by the NFL are still encouraging considering that there were plenty of questions about the sport heading into the 2020 season.
So, is this definitive proof that the league’s Coronavirus protocols worked? To a degree it is: no games had to be canceled during the season while outbreaks were usually contained rather quickly and kept within the organizations who experienced them.
However, the feedback the NFL received for its approach to the season was not entirely positive. New England Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty, for example, criticized the league and the Players Association after the team’s own outbreak in early October.
“I think outside of here, the people that don’t have to walk in our building, whether it’s the league office or whether it’s the NFLPA, they don’t care,” said McCourty. “I mean, we’re trying to get games played and we’re trying to get the season going. So, for them, it’s not about what’s in our best interest, our health and safety. It’s about, ‘What can we make protocol-wise that sounds good, looks good? How can we go out there and play games?’”
Quarterback Cam Newton testing positive ahead of the Patriots’ Week 4 game in Kansas City prompted the facility at Gillette Stadium to be shut down, but the team eventually made the trip just three days later. The NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills, later defended the decision to play the game, despite cornerback Stephon Gilmore being diagnosed with the virus just one day after New England’s game versus the Chiefs.
The team’s outbreak forced the contest against Kansas City to be postponed one day, and the following one against the Denver Broncos to be moved back a week. In total, 11 Patriots players were moved to the Reserve/Covid-19 list throughout the season — some as positive cases, others as close contacts.