The NFL made a dramatic shift in their COVID-19 protocols and will no longer regularly test asymptomatic, vaccinated players. The shift reflects the changing nature of the pandemic, but also comes at a time of unprecedented infection.
NFL changes COVID-19 protocols
The league announced that and other major changes to its COVID-19 protocol Saturday, capping off a dramatic week in which testing revealed more than 150 (mostly asymptomatic) cases in NFL locker rooms. Unvaccinated players, who make up a small percentage of active rosters, will still be subjected to daily testing.
“The NFL and NFLPA have been engaged with our medical advisors to address the emergence of the new Omicron variant and how to stop the spread to ensure we keep everyone safe and complete the remainder of the season responsibly,” the NFL said in a statement.
“The intensive protocols implemented last week and the rescheduling of three games were designed to stop the transmission of the virus and play this week’s games safely. After this weekend’s games, we have agreed to put into place a new set of protocols, which will include a more targeted testing plan, more flexibility for players to attend meetings virtually, and also a high-risk player opt-out for the remainder of the season.”
The deadline to opt-out is 2 PM ET on Monday, December 20. Qualifying high-risk conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, and many more. Those who opt-out will not be paid for the remainder of the season.
Other changes to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol
The new rules mandate that vaccinated players will still be tested if they request one, show symptoms, or are at high risk. But the changes should prevent a repeat of this week. Dozens of asymptomatic (and otherwise healthy) players landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list simply because they were required to take a test.
Those on the list are unable to practice or play in games. The NFL said that roughly two-thirds of all new cases this week involved players exhibiting no symptoms.
“Medical information strongly indicates that this (Omicron) variant is significantly more contagious but possibly less severe than prior variants, particularly for people who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster shot,” the NFL said in a memo.
Going forward, players will be allowed to attend meetings virtually if the league decides to relax its enhanced protocols.