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NFL changes COVID-19 testing, protocols amid current outbreak

Changes could help Browns get players back for Raiders
NFL Football generic
Posted at 4:52 PM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 17:04:16-05

CLEVELAND — Amid an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak across the league, the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association have come to an agreement on adjusted COVID-19 protocols — effectively immediately.

In a memo sent to all 32 clubs from the NFL Management Council, Football Operations, and Player Health & Safety divisions, updates to the league's COVID-19 protocols, effective immediately until the end of the Week 15 games, were explained.

The NFL has updated the testing protocol that is required for a fully vaccinated player or staff member who is asymptomatic for at least 24 hours and tests positive for the virus to "test out" of quarantine and return to team activities. These changes could help the Browns get players eligible during this outbreak.

The first way a player or staffer can now test out of quarantine is to have two negative PCR tests anytime the day after a positive test or later, or for the test to indicate a cycle threshold (the number of thermal cycles or genetic material testing) of 35 or greater, indicating lower amounts of virus and lower infectivity.

The second way a player or staffer can test out of quarantine is to have one negative PCR test or test with a cycle threshold of 35 or greater any time the day after the positive test or later AND a negative rapid Mesa test taken within 24 hours of the PCR test.

The third way a player or staffer can test out of quarantine is to have two negative rapid Mesa tests with two separate swabs anytime the day after the positive test, with a maximum of three tests taken daily.

If any of the three aforementioned testing situations happen, a player can be activated and able to participate on game day as long as the team submits the activation before the transaction deadline for the upcoming game. The player can be activated before being cleared in preparation, but if the player isn't then able to test out of quarantine, they will be deactivated and another player will not be able to be elevated in their place.

Players who still are unable to test out of quarantine with the updated protocols will be able to return to team activities after the standard 10-day quarantine period. Players who test out or return after the standard quarantine period after testing positive will have a 90-day window that they will not have to be tested.

For the Browns, that opens the window for the 16 players and two coaches, including quarterback Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski, who have tested positive for COVID-19 to return before Saturday's game. If any of the testing-out options can be met by Saturday, those players could be activated before the 4:30 p.m. game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Browns players on the COVID-19 list would need to have their PCR tests collected by Friday and the rapid Mesa test collected by Saturday. A PCR test collected Saturday, even if negative before the transaction deadline, would not be considered to clear them from the list.

RELATED: Browns TE David Njoku back at practice after being activated from COVID-19 list

Other changes were made as well. Through the end of the Week 15 games, the NFL is prohibiting in-person meetings for Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals, including coaches and players, unless they are held outdoors or in the practice bubble with all individuals physically distanced. Instead, all other meetings that do not meet that criteria must be held virtually, the league said.

When players and staff are indoors they must wear a mask, regardless of their vaccination status. Masks are not required when outdoors or in the distanced practice bubble meetings and walkthroughs.

The league is also reducing the number of players allowed to work out in a single weight room at one time to 15 total, no matter the players' vaccination status.

Staff and players are not permitted to eat together, regardless of their vaccination status. Meal rooms must convert to grab-and-go style dining or arrange the dining area to allow individuals to distance themselves 10 feet from one another while eating and drinking. Meal room access must be limited or meal times at the club facilities must be staggered under the updated protocol.

When traveling, all tiered staff are prohibited from having visitors in the team hotel or going out for dinner or entertainment, regardless of their vaccination status.

Through Week 15, public player and coaches' appearances or charity events, both scheduled by the team and the players, are prohibited.

Players and staff are prohibited from gathering outside of the club facility or team travel in groups larger than three, regardless of their vaccination status.

"High risk COVID conduct" is prohibited, including:

  • Attending an indoor nightclub without PPE and with more than 10 people in the club.
  • Attending an indoor bar, other than to pick up food, without PPE and with more than 10 people in the bar.
  • House gatherings of more than 15 people without everyone wearing masks or PPE, or where social distancing is not possible
  • Attending an indoor concert or entertainment event.
  • Attending a professional sporting event other than applicable NFL games or when in a suite or box with PPE and less than 10 people in the section.
  • Attending an event prohibited by state or local regulation, order or law due to COVID-19.

The protocols are similar to what the Browns have implemented upon their outbreak.

RELATED: Browns placed in enhanced COVID protocols after most recent testing round

The NFL said that while the updates to the protocols and testing run through Week 15, teams should be prepared for additional modifications and it and the NFLPA continue working together.

Here is the statement provided by the NFL:

Throughout the pandemic we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff. 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. 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.

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