Another week, another Covid-19 issue, and another augmentation of the Covid-19 protocols for the NFL. just as the league is hoping that the Tennessee Titans’ significant outbreak is finally rounding the corner, with the team finally scheduled to play tonight for the first time since week three, they are also monitoring the New England Patriots, who had their week five game postponed because of a four-player outbreak that has included Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore.
These most recent changes are perhaps their most significant and important yet, and frankly, should have and could have been in place since the beginning. For me, the biggest one is that any team employee, including player, who is deemed to have been a close contact of an individual who tests positive is flagged as high-risk and must be away from the facility for at least five days regardless of test results.
Numerous members of the Patriots, for example, played against the Kansas City Chiefs in spite of the fact that they were close contacts of Newton, including Gilmore. Some 20 players traveled with the team separately because of this, but they were all permitted to be with the team and play, some of whom subsequently were confirmed positive.
The other major change is that the league will now carry out PCR tests on gameday mornings, which had previously not been the case, with traveling teams bringing along individuals to help facilitate and process the testing results as soon as possible. POC tests will also remain available.
Masks are now required during all walkthroughs for players. Previously, this was essentially optional. Presumably, non-walkthrough practices will still be free of a mask mandate. And of course, it was re-emphasized that all non-active players and all other individuals on the sidelines must wear masks at all times during games.
Yet another notable change, the league, beginning in week seven, will begin conducting protocol compliance checks of team facilities, and this will include a video review process. Last weeks’ protocol updates stipulated that teams must retain surveillance video for up to 30 days for review at any time upon request.
It was reported that during a league conference call recently, they featured images of Titans and Las Vegas Raiders players and/or employees not in compliance with facility mask protocols. The Titans’ general manager yesterday essentially acknowledged that they have not been fully compliant with this, saying that they have been “generally compliant”—which means not always compliant, which is what is required.
Will these steps ensure that another outbreak does not happen? Absolutely not. By no means does it mean that. At any moment any random employee could shake hands with a Covid-19-positive person and then rub his nose and set about a chain reaction. But it definitely helps to make it less likely, easier to prevent, and simpler to designate responsibility and assign discipline, which serves a preventative effect.