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NFL suspends Covid-19 protocols after almost two years of restrictions

Related: NFL changes Scouting Combine protocols amid mounting pressure

New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins Set Number: X163356 TK1

The NFL and NFLPA informed the 32 teams on Thursday that all Covid-19 protocols have been lifted, effective immediately. After nearly two years of restrictions, the league is therefore returning to its pre-pandemic modus operandi.

The memo states that “current encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity of Covid-19” as well as new CDC guidelines and changes to state laws have triggered the move. The NFL also informed its clubs that local and state rules still remain in effect regardless of its own suspension of protocols.

The changes drastically changes day-to-day operations, with the following areas effected:

  • Covid-19 testing: The NFL will no longer conduct mandatory surveillance testing of players or staff members, regardless of their vaccination status.
  • Tracking: Players and staff members are no longer required to wear tracking devices while inside the facility.
  • Face coverings: Regardless of vaccination status, neither players nor staff will be required to wear masks or similar face coverings. Nonetheless, clubs are allowed to require masks if they elect to do so.
  • Access: The tiers introduced back in 2020 are no longer in place. Furthermore, restrictions to club facilities such as the weight room are gone as well.

While all those protocols no longer apply, the league memo pointed out that “[a]ll individuals must continue to monitor themselves for symptoms on a daily basis prior to entering the club facility.” Players or staff members experiencing Covid-19 symptoms are directed to report to a team’s medical staff and subsequently will have to undergo testing.

Players or staff members who test positive under those updated protocols are required to isolate for five days. The NFL is therefore adapting the same guidelines announced by the CDC in December.

Whether or not this process also covers roster construction remains to be seen. Among other rules, teams had unlimited injured reserve returns available, were allowed to carry 16 instead of 14 players on their practice squad, and were able to promote replacement players from the practice squad.

The league first introduced Covid-19 restrictions in March 2020. At that point, individual teams including the New England Patriots had already started implementing safety measures of their own. Nonetheless, the pandemic forced the NFL to make some drastic changes.

The 2020 draft was held in a virtual setting, while both free agency and draft preparation looking markedly different. Players were also given the option to opt out of either the 2020 or 2021 seasons due to concerns about the virus. Multiple regular season games had to be postponed as well, even though all 554 games over the last two seasons did eventually take place — a significant portion in front of empty stands.

The introduction of vaccines, however, made the situation an easier one. While protocols remained in place last year, the league was not hit as hard by Covid-19 outbreaks. The Patriots, for example, saw 22 of their players sent to the appropriate reserve list, but they did not experience a wide-scale outbreak in 2021.