Six players sat out of practices for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their evening practice at Heinz Field as a precautionary measure after they triggered positive tests for Covid-19 stemming from a laboratory that a number of NFL teams are using located in NJ. They were just one of several teams affected by what teams now believe were false positives from this one facility, which raises the red flag of one of many potential hurdles the league will face this upcoming season.
According to ESPN, 77 players and other personnel triggered positive tests from this lab over the weekend, with all 77 of the individuals subsequently testing negative through additional testing. The Minnesota Vikings, for example, had a dozen players and other personnel affected. The Chicago Bears had nine.
As New York Jets linebacker Avery Williamson told ESPN, “It’s kind of crazy, you know, just thinking, what if that happens before a game or something?”, and this is a serious question the NFL will have to answer. “It’s crazy. You just don’t know what’s going on. There’s nothing you can really do. If somebody has it and you don’t know it, and you’re practicing against them and stuff … I just hope we can stay as clean as possible”.
Since players have reported to training camp, a total of 64 players have tested positive for Covid-19. The vast majority of those cases came when players first reported to training camp and they were immediately testing, entering quarantine before they ever even took the field.
As of this writing, there are only four players across the NFL who are currently on the reserve/Covid-19 list, as we are now a week into full-contact practices, which was one of the major hurdles left for the league to face before the season is slated to begin.
The league is still working on figuring out the answers to important questions, such as how they would handle this situation on a day of a game. Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane, of one of the teams affected by the false-positive tests, openly acknowledged that there are still answers that he’s looking for. “Would a point-of-care test on the game site”, he asked, “allow the player to play? And I don’t have that answer”.
The NFL exclusively uses BioReference laboratory facilities around the country to process their Covid-19 tests, which as of now remain daily for all Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals, which of course encompasses the players. The laboratory in NJ is so far the only one with which they have experienced any issues, but the season is six months long. They’ve already had an issue a month in.
Still, false positives are significantly better than true positives. It’s a problem they’d gladly settle for in the face of the alternative.