One of my roles as a communicator that I take seriously here is that of accurately and helpfully disseminating information and providing clarity where there is confusion. Given the current situation that the Pittsburgh Steelers are in right now, not just due to the unfamiliarity but also the shifting nature of the environment, I’ve been trying to do my best to keep up with the information as we go along.
One of the frequent questions that I have been seeing, especially since yesterday’s announcement that the Steelers’ game against the Baltimore Ravens would be moved to Tuesday night, is whether or not and how this will affect the availability of Ravens players—now hitting a dozen—who have been placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 List as having tested positive. I endeavor to answer that question in this article.
The first step of doing so is establishing what the protocol is. The first thing we know is that these players were in contact with a positive case and have themselves tested positive. What we don’t know in most cases is whether or not players are symptomatic of Covid-19 or if they are asymptomatic. This is important, because each presents different guidelines.
Players who test positive and are symptomatic necessarily must be out for a minimum of 10 days, according to the most recent revision to the Covid-19 Protocols, updated on October 16 (page 40-43). The clock starts from the day that symptoms are first reported to club medical staff (at the beginning of the season, the clock started when symptoms first appeared, which could have occurred earlier).
Symptomatic players must also go at least 24 hours without experiencing a fever minus the use of fever-reducing medications. They are not required to be entirely asymptomatic, however. Other symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath, it says, must merely have improved. Needless to say, all positive cases must return at least two negative PCR tests taken at least 24 hours apart before they may be cleared.
The status of high-risk close contact so far only applies to nose tackle Brandon Williams, but this is important as well. High-risk close contacts may only be eligible to return after five days have passed (thus, on the sixth day) since their last contact with the positive case to which they were a high risk, provided that they consistently test negative and asymptomatic.
So let’s start there. Williams was placed on reserve on 11/23. Even if that was the date of his last close contact, he would be eligible to be cleared by Sunday, so unless he tests positive, he will be available on Tuesday (and likely would have on Sunday as well).
As for the rest, anybody who is symptomatic is required to be away for a minimum of 10 days. But who do we know is symptomatic? Defensive end Calais Campbell appeared to imply that he was on social media. I have attempted to patrol the social media of other players for any indications.
There have been prior reports implying that running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins, and centers Matt Skura and Patrick Mekari, could potentially be available for a game played on Sunday. This would imply that they were asymptomatic, but we don’t know this to be the case.
Anybody who is asymptomatic must still post two consecutive negative PCR tests taken 24 hours apart or more in order to be cleared, and they must be there for at least five days, as it is. Because NFL players are tested every day, it is very unlikely that anybody will test positive for fewer than four days.
It is within the realm of possibility that asymptomatic players who tested positive at the start of the week could be cleared in time to play on Tuesday. This would be virtually impossible for the later waves, on the other hand.
The earliest Covid cases resulted in a move to the reserve list on 11/23. That would be eight days prior to Tuesday’s game. Any asymptomatic player would have to be able to test negative at least by Monday for the first time in order to even have a chance to be active. They also have to be approved for return by medical professionals and by local guidelines, and must also complete a cardiac screening.
Dobbins and Ingram were first, on the 23rd. Linebacker Pernell McPhee was placed on reserve on the 24th, then Skura, Mekari, and Campbell on the 25th. Defensive lineman Jihad Ward was added on the 26th, followed by quarterback Lamar Jackson, fullback Patrick Ricard, long snapper Morgan Cox, and defensive lineman Jason Madubuike yesterday.
Basically, the later you test positive for the first time, the less likely you are to be able to be able to play. The game being postponed from Sunday to Tuesday very well may have no impact on who is available. My expectation is that most, if not all of these players will be unavailable. Generally, from what I can see, players spend at least nine days on reserve when they test positive (which is typically 10 days from when they first tested positive or showed symptoms). I’m not presently aware of any case so far during this season in which a player tested positive and was able to return within 10 days.