NFL Chief Medical Officer Questions Whether ‘Bubble’ Concept Is Safer

The NFL has had to move two games this season to entirely different weeks, and has postponed others, explicitly due to the fact that one or more teams involved in those games were dealing with at least one positive Covid-19 case among their players. Several other games were jostled around in order to accommodate those moves.

Arguably the most egregious hypothetical played out last night, when the Buffalo Bills were forced to play amid uncertainty. They were originally scheduled to play on Thursday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. When the week five Tennessee Titans game was rescheduled for Tuesday night, they decided to allow things to hang in the balance.

If the Titans continued to experience outbreaks, which they did, apparently right up until the point in which the league wouldn’t have been comfortable, then that game would have had to be postponed against, and the Bills would have played the Chiefs on Thursday night as scheduled. Otherwise, they were to play the Titans last night, as they did. So they had to work preparing for two possible opponents.

These are just the ramifications felt due to positive Covid-19 infections through the first five weeks of the season, and there is certainly no guarantee it will stop there. In spite of this, however, the NFL appears to remain resistant to the concept of teams operating within a bubble environment of any kind.

We don’t feel that is the safest course of action”, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said yesterday. “I think we all have to recognize that there are no perfect [solutions] here. First of all, a bubble is not going to keep out all infections”.

“You still have other individuals that come in and out: service workers, security, other personnel”, he continued. “And we’ve known from other experiences that those individuals can be infected. So simply being in a bubble doesn’t keep us safe. We still have to do all these measures of mitigation, with PPE, with identifications of symptoms, with testing, etc.”.

He went on to talk about the human effect of playing in a bubble, the emotional toll that it could take. But it doesn’t appear that they have given any indications of having discussed this matter with the NBA and the NHL, two leagues who did employ bubble concepts in order to (very successfully) carry out their seasons.

Personally, I don’t know that the NFL is actually too concerned about that, and really tacking it on more as further justification to avoid playing in a bubble. After all, they are now set on hosting as many fans in as many stadiums as local governments will allow, and you can’t really do that in a bubble.

Not that I’m entirely cynical about the league’s approach by any means. By and large, I believe they have done a good job, even though they could have taken some steps sooner than they have. I doubt that it will come to a point where a bubble becomes necessary, but I would like to have heard a more open mindset about it.

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