The Pittsburgh Steelers had one player and two coaches test positive yesterday, a day after they placed three other players on the Reserve/Covid-19 List. To date, we have been unable to learn who if any of those three players—Stephon Tuitt, Isaiah Buggs, and Jerald Hawkins—tested positive or were deemed close contacts of a positive case.
According to Mike Florio, a league source said that it’s believed yesterday’s positive test results came from point-of-care testing, and that the Steelers’ test results take longer to be received than just about any other team because they are located further from their testing site.
Point of care testing is important in that it delivers fast results, but it is also notoriously less accurate. While it is a bit more prone to delivering false positives, the bigger concern is false negatives, especially early on in the incubation period. A PCR test will more accurately identify a low-level viral load than a POC test.
Which is why the source believes that we may hear of additional positives generated from Saturday’s round of PCR tests in the early morning hours, because it is apparent that the Steelers have had some type of infection event that has at some level affected at least six people so far.
The delay in testing results is certainly frustrating, and not new. For example, Steelers tight end Vance McDonald tested positive on Sunday before their game against the Dallas Cowboys, but they did not learn the test results until the next day. Thus, he played while positive, as did two other players on other teams that week.
The NFL clearly does not currently have a more efficient means of receiving more timely PCR test results than is their current model, and I would imagine that one of their hurdles in improving upon the situation is the importance of reducing their community footprint, because they don’t want to limit testing availability and processing within the general public.
But the long and short of it is that by the time you read this, we may see more Steelers players having had positive test results from yesterday’s round of tests. It’s not clear what that would mean, but it would certainly push us a step closer to having this game postponed to a potential week 18.