By Teresa M. Walker
NFL teams won’t be allowed to create local bubbles during the postseason by mandating that players stay in a hotel, except for the night before a game.
“Clubs may not require players and staff to stay at a hotel in their local area,” reads a league memo obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press. “This decision is based upon an analysis of the frequency of positive cases in the league compared to the risk of significant spread among players and staff gathered for an extensive period of time at one hotel.”
Teams will be allowed to continue paying for players who want to move into a hotel to avoid the risk of catching COVID-19 from family or roommates throughout the postseason, according to the memo.
When teams stay in hotels before games, players and staff now will be required to wear a tracing device until they return to their rooms for the night whether staying at home or on the road.
The NFL also reminded teams that gathering socially at team hotels remains prohibited, while requirements to wear masks and physical distance from each other are still in effect.
In the postseason, teams will be reimbursed for using two planes to travel to road games. The limits on how many people can travel remain unchanged, and the NFL reminded teams to assign seats strategically to reduce risks of spreading the virus.
The NFL and NFL Players Association also agreed to update COVID-19 protocols adding a new test, clearing people to work game days, extending the time for people testing positive but asymptomatic to return, and extending testing to players’ family and their service providers, according to the memo.
Anyone testing positive but showing no symptoms will not be allowed to return until after 10 days pass from the day the positive test was collected, with the team doctor notifying Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. Previously, asymptomatic players or staff could return after two consecutive negative PCR tests.
Anyone testing positive under the new Mesa Accula Rapid PCR test must be tested again and placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list that day rather than waiting a day for the other test result. This new test also will be used to clear close contacts the day before games and on game day.
Starting this week, anyone clearing testing on game day will be able to take part on game days.
But anyone testing positive first must clear isolation before being able to play. That player can’t travel with the team or stay at the team hotel the night before a game. Someone counted as a high-risk close contact can play if game day is the first day out of the five-day isolation period.
Newly acquired players can play if their sixth day of entry testing falls on game day but also can’t travel or interact with the team until that day.
“Even as infection rates decreased across the league during the last two weeks, we continue to see community exposure as the primary means of infection for club personnel,” the memo reads.
That’s why teams are “strongly encouraged” to arrange testing immediately at least twice a week for players’ family or roommates and people hired by players such as barbers, personal chefs, chiropractors, masseuses and stretching assistants.
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.