As the NFL deals with the effects of a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak towards the end of 2021, the league is implementing new protocols in an attempt to keep things from getting out of hand.
On December 16, the NFL announced new “preventative measures” that each of the league’s 32 franchises must comply with as a result of a drastic increase in positive cases.
”Throughout the pandemic we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff,” the NFL said in a statement. “The changes we are making today aim to address the increase in cases and the advent of the Omicron variant.”
“Effective immediately, all clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel,” the statement continued. “We will continue to strongly encourage booster shots as the most effective protection. Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19. All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community.”
In a nutshell, players and staff members will:
- Wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status
- Hold in-person meetings outdoors or in their team’s practice bubble, all while physically distanced. All other meetings “must be conducted virtually.”
- Avoid exceeding 15 people in the team’s weight room at one time
- Eat meals on the go, rather than in any setting where they could gather with others
- Be prohibited from “receiving visitors at the team hotel or going out to dinner or for entertainments in the away city, regardless of vaccination status.”
- Face restrictions for public appearances, charity events, or external gatherings with organization members.
Similar to the old protocols, vaccinated players can get off of their team’s COVID-19 list quicker than their unvaccinated counterparts.
However, as ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported, anyone who tested positive ahead of Week 15 could “test back in” and play on Saturday, Sunday, or Monday if they’re vaccinated and show no symptoms.
The news comes amid a troublesome time for the league, with dozens of players getting added to COVID-19 lists around the league on a daily basis.
The Cleveland Browns, scheduled to play a Saturday afternoon game against the Las Vegas Raiders, saw their starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and backup quarterback Case Keenum test positive for COVID-19 in the days leading up to the game.
As of Thursday afternoon, 20 players had tested positive for COVID-19 in Cleveland.
That number isn’t even the lowest in the league, as the Washington Football Team had 21 players on their COVID-19/Reserve List as of Thursday afternoon, including 17 active roster members, two injured reserve players, and two practice squad members.
The Chicago Bears placed six players on the COVID-19 list on Thursday, December 16, and saw six other players miss practice due to illness that same day, as well.
No games had been postponed or cancelled as of the NFL updating their COVID-19 protocols on December 16, but things could get more interesting as weekends inch closer and the holiday season rolls along.
The league handled postponements on numerous occasions in 2020, and certainly has the precedent to operate with if issues were to arise to end 2021.
But, if things continue to escalate at the current rate, the 2021 regular season could turn out to be even worse than the first year of the pandemic if the NFL doesn’t maneuver through it properly.