NFL players seem to have been granted their two COVID-19 wishes Monday when the league consented to daily testing when training camps open next week, and also reportedly offered to cancel the preseason games.
The daily testing will be for at least the first two weeks of camp. After that, the league will test every other day if the positivity rate falls below 5%. If it doesn’t, daily testing will continue. If the positivity rate rises above 5% at any point during the season, daily testing will resume.
The league agreed to the new testing protocols after a number of the league’s more prominent players, including Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, took to social media over the weekend and expressed concern over the league’s health and safety protocols, given the COVID surges in many NFL cities.
The league also reportedly proposed deep-sixing the rest of the preseason, according to multiple media outlets, citing sources. It already had canceled two of the four weeks of the preseason last month. That means teams would have six weeks to get ready for the start of the regular season. The union had not yet accepted the offer as of Monday night.
“Our union has been pushing for the strongest testing, tracing and treatment protocols to keep our players safe,‘' the NFLPA said in a statement earlier Monday. “The testing protocols we agreed to are one critical factor that will help us return to work safely and gives us the best chance to play and finish the season.‘'
Given the fact that spring OTAs were wiped out by the pandemic and players haven’t been on the field together since last season, the union felt playing preseason games would be counterproductive, both from an injury and learning standpoint.
“This is different than coming out of the lockout [in 2011],‘' NFLPA president JC Tretter said last week. “During the lockout, team facilities were closed, but players could go to any private gym and work out and stay in shape. That hasn’t been the case this year.
“The gyms were closed. Guys went over a month without being able to train. I would argue that guys are in worse physical shape coming out of this break than out of the lockout break. And that year, there were major injury spikes. Overall injuries rose 25%. Hamstring strains jumped 44%. Achilles injuries doubled.
“The recommendation from our joint committee was 21 days of conditioning to get your body back in shape before being thrown back into the fire of a reactionary environment of a game or practice. Then a slow ramp-up of non-padded practices. Then you start the contact acclimation phase. That’s the build-up that people who study the science, who track the data, recommend as the best way for guys starting from zero to come out of this long break.‘'
The NFL will be using the same testing company as the NBA, BioReference Laboratories. The NBA is going to be testing every other day. But their players and staff are living in a “bubble'' outside Orlando, Fla., until the season is over. NFL players will be living at home and traveling to games, which increases their COVID exposure risk.
NFL union head DeMaurice Smith made it clear last week that he felt daily testing was necessary if the league had any chance of keeping COVID-19 at bay and playing a full season.
Smith said that the league will be able to get test results within “3-4 hours,‘' which is a far cry from the seven to 10 days it is taking the general public to get results. The NBA has said it hopes to get test results back in 12 to 15 hours.
Besides players, those who will be subject to testing include coaches, training and medical staffs, strength and conditioning staffs, equipment people, some front-office personnel, facility staff, and video personnel.
If a player tests positive, he will be sidelined for at least 10 days and need multiple negative tests before he can return. He also will need to be free of any COVID symptoms for at least 72 hours.
Players who come in close contact with someone who tests positive will be tested and isolated. If he tests negative and continues to have no symptoms, he’ll be able to return to the facility and be tested daily. Players also will wear proximity recording devices during team activities -- meetings, weight-lifting sessions, locker rooms, etc. -- that will beep if they come within six feet of someone else wearing a PRD.
The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Sills, has said that the league’s testing will not take any resources away from local markets. Sills insisted “it was a driving force for us.‘'