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Rundown of the rules NFL players must follow if they test positive for COVID-19

(Abbie Parr / Getty Images)

When New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive less than 48 hours between a highly-anticipated game against the Kansas City Chiefs, fans across New England wondered when the team’s offensive superstar would be eligible to return to the field.

When numerous players on the Tennessee Titans’ roster tested positive for COVID-19 and the team’s facilities were shut down, fans were left wondering about the soonest possible date that the organization could resume in-person activities.

>>RELATED: How can the NFL adjust its schedule as Steelers-Titans game gets postponed?

While fans may not be familiar with all of the rules that are in place for players and coaches to follow, teams across the NFL are already very familiar with the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

A memo sent to the league’s 32 teams in July outlined the specific protocols for training camp, with stringent rules in place for players and teams to follow once the regular season began on September 10.

Players and essential personnel have undergone daily testing since the start of training camp in August, and that daily testing will continue throughout the season, including a team’s bye week.

Those rules will force players to stay in their team’s home city throughout the off week, and any player that misses a test without permission from the team will receive a series of penalties, depending on the amount of missed tests.

One missed test? A player receives a $50,000 fine. Two? A one-game suspension, with “more discipline” and the potential for more suspensions coming for three or more missed test.

>>RELATED: How the NFL is adapting the 2020 season due to COVID-19

But, what happens when a player tests positive for COVID-19 in the middle of the regular season? How long would they be out of action, and when are they allowed to return to the team’s facility for in-person meetings or practices?

The rules put forth by the NFL are strict, providing an easy formula for both teams and the league as a whole to follow for both asymptomatic and symptomatic players.

Asymptomatic players:

If a player tests positive for COVID-19 during the season, but does not show any symptoms after their test result comes back, they could be back on the field sooner than a symptomatic player.

If the player is asymptomatic, he can return either:

  • 10 days after the initial positive COVID-19 test.


  • Five days after the initial positive COVID-19 test if the player receives two consecutive negative PCR virus tests, both at least 24 hours apart within those five days.

Symptomatic players:

If a player tests positive for COVID-19 during the season and is showing symptoms after their test result comes back, there are strict rules in place that determine when they can return to the lineup.

The player can come back to the field:

  • At least 10 days after symptoms first appeared.


  • At least 72 hours after they last experienced symptoms.

Even after meeting that criteria, the player must get cleared by the team’s head physician, and they will have to go through additional cardiac screening after they have recovered.

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Think those rules are a lot? There’s more to think about as it relates to that additional cardiac screening for symptomatic players.

For those who show mild symptoms, the player must go through at least three days of a progressive exercise protocol under the supervision of team medical staff members, with proper monitoring.

For those with a more severe experience with COVID-19, that time period increases to either seven days, or twice as long as the length of a player’s hospitalization.

All of this doesn’t even factor in the contact tracing and the protocols in place for players and coaches who come into contact with those who test positive for COVID-19, and the pressure put on teams that experience outbreaks, like the Titans.

Anyone deemed to be “high risk” due to close contact exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19 must be isolated for at least 5 days, even if that “high-risk” person tests negative and doesn’t show any symptoms.

>>RELATED: Which NFL players are opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19?

All in all, it’s a season full of necessary structure to keep players and personnel safe throughout the league’s 17-week schedule, not even factoring the added pressure and protocols that will need to be put in place for the postseason.

As the NFL is finding out, the coronavirus is not something to take lightly, and it’s something that could impact the league and season as a whole if teams don’t act and react accordingly.

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