As we look forward to watching full stadiums for the first weekend of the NFL season, Covid guidelines are still here. The NFL’s Covid-19 guidelines for the 2021-22 season are 95 pages long. I have read every word to find the details that really matter to you, the NFL fan.
It is a fact of life in 2021 there will be players, coaches, and employees who test positive for Covid-19. With those positive cases, there will be close contacts. There are unvaccinated and vaccinated people, each with their own set of protocols based on their vaccinated status.
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In those 95 pages, there are protocols for everything from workers in team offices to stewardesses on team flights. Let’s be real though, you do not care about protocols for the team bus or post-game meals are. If you do care about that, please contact me on social media; I am happy to answer those questions.
For the rest of you, what matters most is what happens to players in the event of Covid. Unvaccinated players must take a Mesa rapid test every morning. They must have the results before entering team facilities. Vaccinated players take the test once a week and can go into the facility without a result.
Once in the facility unvaccinated players must wear a mask indoors at all times, including in the weight room. They can remove the mask at outdoor practices or indoor practice and walkthroughs. While inside, they must maintain a six-foot social distance from other players. Vaccinated players do not have to wear a mask in the facility. They only need to wear a mask when mandated by local or federal regulations (for example: on buses).
When on the road, unvaccinated players must stay in the team hotel. They can not use any public facilities like gyms, pools, or restaurants. They can not have any guests outside of the 75 person travel group for the team. Masks must be worn by unvaccinated players anytime they leave their room. Vaccinated players can go to public areas and leave the facility.
We know that despite those protocols and many others, Covid cases are going to happen. When they do, there will be close contact with those individuals.
When a vaccinated player tests positive for Covid-19, like Tyrann Mathieu, that player must be sent home. As long as they remain asymptomatic, they can return to the team facility after two consecutive BRL PCR tests (BioReference Lab Polymerase Chain Reaction) taken 24 hours apart.
An example of this is, if Mathieu tests positive on Monday, then he takes the BRL PCR test Tuesday & Wednesday. As long as both come back negative, then he can return to the facility on Thursday. As long as his Mesa test returns negative, he can enter the facility. Dallas Cowboys lineman Zack Martin had bad timing that his positive case came back on Tuesday. This meant he can’t have the two-day period before Thursday’s game.
If that same vaccinated player tests positive and forms symptoms, then he must be symptom-free for 48 hours as well as the previously listed protocols. An example of this is, if said player test positive on Monday and is showing symptoms Monday and Tuesday, but wakes up Wednesday with no symptoms. If he remains symptom-free Thursday, then he can test Friday and Saturday and still play on Sunday with a negative Mesa test at the ballpark. So with vaccinated players, it is all about timing and having a two-day window for the testing.
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By contrast, an unvaccinated player that tests positive for Covid-19 has to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days from the date the test was taken. If the player is asymptomatic he can return to the team following at least 10 days and two days of consecutive negative BRL PCR tests.
If the player is symptomatic, then he must wait at least 10 days from the first date of reported symptoms, at least 24 hours have passed since the last fever, and two days of consecutive negative BRL PCR tests. Only then can he get back in the facility.
With those positive tests, there will come close contact. The NFL has multiple levels of what it considers “close contacts”. Low-risk contact is like walking past someone in a hallway. Medium risk contact is maintaining a greater than six feet distance for a short period of time (less than 10 minutes) with no physical contact and social distance in shared spaces.
Close contact is someone who was within six feet for a total of 15 minutes throughout the day. High-risk contact is designated for an unvaccinated person who has been deemed by the NFL Chief Medical Officer to have a higher than normal risk.
For the low to medium-risk individuals, the response is the same for vaccinated or unvaccinated players. They are to monitor for symptoms and perform their regular testing schedule. As long as they stay symptom-free, nothing else changes.
Close contacts are both tested immediately and quarantined until the results come through. If the results are negative they can return to the facility and monitor symptoms as with low and medium risk contacts. A test that comes back positive activates positive protocols.
High-risk contacts must quarantine and test immediately. If the test comes back positive, they go into the Covid positive protocols. Unlike the other contacts though, even a negative test requires a longer stay away from the team. Those players deemed “high-risk contact” must remain away from the team for five days from the last exposure with testing every day. As long as the test remains negative, the player can return after the fifth day from the last exposure.
Those are the high points of the NFL’s Covid protocols for the 2021 season. As you can see, it is all about timing and vaccination status. There are definitive benefits to vaccinated players over unvaccinated. Players against these rules will say they are punishments to try and force the vaccine without actually mandating it. The NFL and its doctors say the protocols are designed to protect the unvaccinated in the same way they did last season.
Whichever side of that debate you are on, the facts remain that all of these scenarios will happen throughout the season. We have already seen it in Week One with Mathieu and Martin. I hope this information simplifies the protocols that will affect your favorite team on game day. If you have any questions, please drop me a line and I will be happy to answer them.
Until then, it is Week One; are you ready for some football?