NFL players will be tested every day for the first two weeks of training camp, Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said in a conference call, and it is expected that players will need more than one negative test before first being allowed to enter team facilities.
At the two-week mark, the rate of positive tests for those tested — players, coaches and staff who are in close contact with the football team — will be examined and if the rate of positive tests is below five percent, testing will move to every other day. Training camp is set to begin for the entire league July 28.
The NFLPA and league agreed to these protocols Monday.
“Our union has been pushing for the strongest testing, tracing and treatment protocols to keep our players safe,” an NFLPA statement on COVID-19 testing procedures read. “The testing protocols we agreed to are one critical factor that will help us return to work safely and gives us the best chance to play and finish the season.”
The news came after a series of prominent players took to social media Sunday to question the league’s readiness on health and safety measures for the opening of camps. The frequency of testing had been one of the biggest outstanding issues to be resolved between the league and the players union. Players had pushed for daily testing and one owner said late last week that teams have been told there could be a considerable number of positive tests as players travel from their homes to gather at their team facilities over the next week. But doctors for the league and the union have assured teams that once players get into the protocols and are being tested regularly, the positivity rate should drop.
If a player tests positive but has no symptoms, he can return to the facility 10 days after the initial positive test or if he receives two consecutive negative tests within five days of the initial positive test. If the player has a positive test and symptoms, he can return after at least 10 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared and at least 72 hours have passed since he last experienced symptoms.
Players who have close contact with someone who has symptoms will be tested and isolated as soon as possible. If the test is negative, and the player continues to have no symptoms, he may return to the facility but will have increased symptom monitoring and more frequent testing. If the player has close contact with someone who has a positive COVID-19 test, he will be tested and even if the test is negative and the player has no symptoms, he would need a second negative test before being allowed to return.
The final testing protocol agreed to by the NFL and NFLPA extends to the initial screening timeline, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported, as players will be tested on the first and fourth days of camp, with two days of remote education in between. The idea behind this protocol is that waiting another day will aid in capturing the virus as it incubates. Therefore, veteran players who report on July would get a physical no sooner than Aug. 1.
The NFL has contracted with a national lab to handle the testing for all 32 teams, so that the league’s testing needs would not be a drain on supplies in local markets. The NFL expects to receive test results within 24 hours.
Players will wear proximity recording devices during all team activities — at the facility, practice, team travel — and the data from those devices will provide highly precise contact tracing information. Sills said that will help identify which other players and staff an infected player has come in closest contact with, so that they can be tested and isolated quickly. That will become especially important as practices and games begin.
Sills emphasized, though, that players and staff will still bear the responsibility of modifying their behavior at the facility and away from it, to mitigate the risk of infection.
“We cannot test our way to safety,” he said.
Sills said the protocols will undoubtedly change during the season as doctors learn more about the virus and new tests are developed.
Among the outstanding issues that still remain between the league and the players union is the structure of training camp. There is expected to be a weeks-long conditioning period before players put on pads for a regular practice. And the sides are still discussing how many, if any, preseason games will be played. Players want no preseason games, while the league had wanted two and just recently proposed a one-game preseason.