NFL players will be tested daily for the coronavirus for at least the first two weeks of training camp under the league’s testing protocols.
The NFL and the players’ union reached an agreement as rookies for Houston and Kansas City were set to report to camp Monday, with rookies for other teams to begin arriving Tuesday.
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The agreement comes a day after several high-profile players, including reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, took to Twitter calling for the league to address their health and safety concerns over returning amid the virus outbreak.
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL chief medical officer, said more than one negative test is required before players initially enter the building to begin physical exams or any form of team activity, ahead of the league’s scheduled start on September 10.
After two weeks of daily testing, if the positivity rate of those tests falls below five per cent among players and Tier I and Tier II individuals, as described in previously NFL protocols, testing would go to every other day. If the positivity rate doesn’t fall below that threshold, daily testing would continue until it drops.
“There’s no finish line with health and safety and I think these protocols are very much living and breathing documents, which means they will change as we gain new knowledge about this virus, as we gain new knowledge about transmission, as we gain new knowledge about testing and there are new tests and new techniques that come online,” Sills said. “We very much anticipate that these protocols will change.”
The NFL has sought input from other leagues that have already returned to action, including leagues outside the country. It’s not known how many positive tests would result in shutting down the football season.
“These are complicated issues which involve a lot of factors,” Sills said.
“But suffice it to say we very much look at it from a medical and public health standpoint, and we want to make sure that first and foremost we’re creating the safest possible environment for our players, for our coaches and our staff, but that we’re also operating within the safest environment for each one of our clubs’ locations, which means ongoing and regular communication with the public health authorities in those areas.”
The league and the NFLPA already finalised protocols regarding team travel, media, and treatment response, and updated the facilities protocol to specifically address training camp based on recommendations from a joint committee of doctors, trainers and strength coaches formed by the league and players’ union.
On Friday, the league sent players and teams an “Education Protocol” for camp which requires clubs to distribute joint educational materials and to conduct educational sessions for players, staff and family members.
“Everything that we’re doing is centred around the concept of risk mitigation,” Sills said. “We know that we can’t eliminate risk, but we’re trying to mitigate it as much as possible for everyone. We know that this is going to be a shared responsibility.”
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