Up until a week ago, it appeared as though everything was going well for the Pittsburgh Steelers pertaining to their adherence to the Covid-19 protocols and, more importantly, keeping everybody safe. But in the past eight days, we have had Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler not appropriately wearing their masks in a game, being fined for it, and for a non-player staff member testing positive.
Just a short while ago, the team announced that a player has tested positive for the first time since the start of training camp. That player has not yet been identified, but it will be made obvious when he is placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 List. Below is a team statement from spokesman Burt Lauten:
The Steelers were informed this morning that a player has tested positive for COVID-19. The player immediately was self-quarantined, and the organization continues to be in the NFL’s Intensive Protocol. We have been in contact with the NFL and medical advisors to complete the necessary contact tracing. The player will be placed on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 List today.
The health and safety of our players, coaches and staff members remain our highest priority.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) November 9, 2020
The next step is contact tracing. Any player who is deemed a high-risk close contact of the infected player will have to self-quarantine for a period of five days from their last close contact with the player, whether they test positive or not, and will be placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 List for that time. If all tests remain negative, he will be able to return on the sixth day. Under the latest protocols, any player who tests positive and the positive test is confirmed must quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of subsequent test results.
This means that whoever did test positive will certainly not play on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. We can only hope that there were no high-risk close contacts, as that will mean that these players will miss physical practices during this week.
Last week, the Steelers played the Baltimore Ravens and cornerback Marlon Humphrey while he was positive for Covid-19, as the results of a gameday test revealed the morning after. It is unknown, and perhaps unknowable, if this is related to that. The Ravens placed half a dozen additional players on the Reserve/Covid-19 List along with Humphrey, including Matt Judon and L.J. Fort, as high-risk close contacts, but were able to be activated in time for yesterday’s game.
This may be an identical situation, as test results often come in 24 hours later, and the statement notes that they were informed of the positive test in the morning. This means that the player likely participated in yesterday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, which means that they will have to take some precautions this week as the Steelers did last week. The good news for Dallas, however, is that they are entering their bye week.
While we will know in a short time the name of the player who tested positive, it is worth noting that tight end Vance McDonald missed Friday’s practice with an illness. He played 24 snaps, including special teams, in yesterday’s game. Humphrey also missed practice due to illness shortly before testing positive.
UPDATE: According to Albert Breer, it was indeed McDonald who tested positive. He will miss Sunday’s game against the Bengals, and almost surely Kevin Rader will be brought up to the 53-man roster as part of the Covid-19 replacement program. When McDonald is activated from the reserve list, Rader will not have to clear waivers. This also means that, like Humphrey, McDonald experienced symptoms prior to his positive test, so he is not an asymptomatic case.
Today’s COVID-19 update. Steelers TE Vance McDonald goes on the list.
(Also, 49ers CB Richard Sherman designated for return.) pic.twitter.com/lqo4UAsC4h
— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) November 9, 2020