Unvaccinated Cousins vows to follow protocols

    Covered the 49ers, Raiders and Warriors for the San Jose Mercury News. She joined ESPN in 2017.

EAGAN, Minn. — Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins vowed to follow the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols to avoid contracting the virus or being deemed a close contact ahead of returning to practice Thursday after being activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Cousins and quarterback Nate Stanley were subjected to the league’s COVID-19 protocols as of Saturday after rookie Kellen Mond tested positive for the virus. Cousins and Stanley were deemed high-risk close contacts and had to isolate for five days before being eligible to return to practice.

According to NFL-NFL Players Association protocols, a high-risk close contact designates that a player is also unvaccinated.

Cousins, 32, said he has had six negative tests since he was last with Mond on July 30 and did not exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19. The veteran quarterback said the size of Minnesota’s quarterback meeting room inside TCO Performance Center was the root of the issue.

“I’ve come to learn since I’ve been at home that the tracers we wear actually showed I was not a ‘close contact’ as I understand being a close contact, which is being within a certain number of feet,” Cousins said. “The challenge was, the meeting room we met in was deemed to be too small for us to have been in a room together — even if we were significantly apart from each other. So we’ve since moved to a different meeting room, and as I understand it, had we met in a larger room, I would not have missed practice. Because I was not a close contact as deemed by actually being in contact. So it was disappointing to miss practice. In my entire college and pro career, I have not missed four practices. So to miss four practices in one week and not have COVID was frustrating, disappointing.”

A league source confirmed to ESPN that the size of Minnesota’s quarterback room did factor into Cousins being deemed a close contact. The quarterback said his position group is moving to a larger meeting room to avoid this issue in the future.

“As I said to Coach [Mike] Zimmer last night, I said, ‘We can meet in the indoor, we can meet outside,'” Cousins said. “And I said, ‘If it means meeting outside under a goalpost in January, if that’s what it takes to get to the playoffs and be in playoff games and win playoff games, then that’s where we’re going to meet.’ We’re going to avoid this close-contact thing with everything we possibly can do. I was not aware of the meeting room size being an issue. Otherwise, I would have spoken up and said, ‘We obviously can’t meet here.'”

Cousins called his vaccination decision “a very private health matter” and would not disclose whether the situation he found himself in this week would persuade him to receive the vaccine to prevent this issue from popping up during the season. The quarterback repeatedly referred to the need for following the NFL-NFLPA’s protocols as the best measure of protection against contracting the virus or being deemed a close contact.

“I do believe that as a leader of the team, it’s very important to follow the protocols to avoid this close contact — because that is what it’s going to come down to,” Cousins said. “Did you have a close contact? So I’m going to be vigilant about avoiding a close contact. I’ve even thought about, should I just set up literally Plexiglas around where I sit, so this could never happen again? I’ve thought about it, because I’m going to do whatever it takes. We’re going to avoid this close-contact thing, and I look forward to making sure I’m playing for every game this year.”

Cousins said he and Zimmer had a “tremendous conversation” Wednesday ahead of his return to practice. Zimmer, who has been outspoken over his frustrations with his players who are not vaccinated, told KFAN-100.3 FM that he had spoken with Cousins previously about the league’s protocols, which Zimmer said the quarterback “doesn’t believe in.”

Cousins attempted to set the record straight Thursday: “I very much believe in the protocols.”

The quarterback said he will be “very vigilant” with the COVID-19 protocols to assure he isn’t in the same position down the line and forced to miss a game as result.

“The protocols are what you have to follow,” Cousins said. “The NFL has set these protocols in place. I want to follow the protocols so I can play on Sunday, and that’s where my focus is. As long as I can not test positive and not have a close contact, I’ll be there for every game.”

The Washington Post reported that the Vikings have the league’s lowest vaccination rate at 64.5% of players fully vaccinated. Cousins said he was not aware of his team’s current percentages and did not directly comment on whether he believes the Vikings are at a competitive disadvantage.

“I think it’s a fluid situation,” he said. “I think it’s changing daily.”

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