NFL Adds Mask Requirement, Increases Covid Testing

NFL Adds Mask Requirement, Increases Covid Testing 1

After N.F.L. cases more than doubled, the league strengthened its Covid-19 protocols and recommended teams help set up testing for families of players and team staff ahead of the holiday.

The N.F.L. strengthened its Covid-19 protocols as the number of positive cases rises across the country and people make plans to convene for Thanksgiving, and recommended facilitating testing for families of players and other employees.

Every person, regardless of their vaccination status, must wear masks inside team facilities between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, and all players, coaches and support staff also must be tested for the coronavirus on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1, after the Thanksgiving weekend.

This season, unvaccinated players and football staff in the league’s Tier 1 designation, the most essential personnel, must be tested every day. Those who are vaccinated must be tested at least once per week, and potentially more if they are symptomatic or have a close contact with someone who tests positive.

With Wednesday’s update to the protocols, unvaccinated players must wait for their results before entering a team facility, while vaccinated players and staff can enter their facilities, but must remain masked while they wait for results.

In a memo sent to all 32 teams Tuesday night, the league also urged clubs to set up drive-through testing facilities for players, staff and any friends and family who may visit them for the holiday.

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The league also reminded its teams of existing prohibitions aimed at reducing potential exposure to the coronavirus. Unvaccinated players are not to gather in groups of more than three people outside of the team facility; visit a nightclub or bar where more than 10 people are present; attend concerts and other events; or attend parties in homes where there are more than 15 people, if they all do not wear masks.

Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said the N.F.L. tightened restrictions because the league saw its highest number of confirmed positive coronavirus tests in the previous two weeks. “That wasn’t a total surprise to us because our numbers mirror the number of cases in the country,” he said.

Between Oct. 31 and Nov. 13, there were 81 confirmed positive cases in the N.F.L., 34 players and 47 staff, the most in any two-week period this season. The players affected included high-profile starters like Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa, and Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb.

In the prior two-week period, there were 35 confirmed positive cases, including 11 players.

In the United States, there were more than 85,000 positive cases in the 14-day period that ended Tuesday, an 18 percent increase, according to data collected by The New York Times. The number of cases has risen fastest in the Midwest and Northeast, where cooler temperatures are driving people to spend more time indoors.

About 94 percent of all players and nearly all coaches and staff are vaccinated, according to the N.F.L., so most of the league’s infected personnel have had milder symptoms. Sills said Wednesday there has not been any uncontrolled spread of the virus inside team facilities, and that in some mild cases vaccinated players, coaches and staff have been able to return in fewer than the prescribed 10 days because they tested negative twice in a two-day period.

Jeff Miller, a league spokesman, said the implementation of the tighter protocols was not in reaction to Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ unvaccinated quarterback, who tested positive for coronavirus two weeks ago and was later fined $14,650 for failing to follow Covid-19 protocols agreed on by the league and the players’ union.

The Packers were fined $300,000 for failing to monitor whether players adhered to the guidelines.

To enforce the toughened protocols, the league said it would be “periodically reviewing footage from surveillance cameras in club facilities” and penalizing players and clubs “as warranted.” Teams must install cameras in their weight rooms and cafeterias and must keep the video from those cameras for 30 days in case the league needs to review it.

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