The NFL will administer COVID-19 tests to players and other essential employees every day of the regular season except game day, according to an updated set of protocols delivered Saturday to teams.
The NFL Players Association pushed hard to continue the daily testing arrangement, which was set to expire Saturday. The league avoided outbreaks during training camp in part because of the rigorous regimen, and as of Saturday morning there were only six players league-wide on the COVID-19 list.
The rule applies to all employees classified as either Tier 1 or Tier 2. Because players will not be tested on game day, they will not be allowed to enter team facilities on the day after games unless they need medical attention or their team is on a short week.
The protocols also set a series of deadlines for tests on the day before games, designed to ensure there is enough time to confirm an initial positive result, or determine that it was a false-positive result. A player will be eligible to play as long as his test results are a confirmed negative by two hours before kickoff.
Initial tests must be taken by 8:30 a.m. on Saturday for a 1 p.m. ET Sunday game and 10 a.m. Saturday for games that kick off a 4 p.m. Sunday or later.
Saturday’s other adjustments to league protocols include:
+ A streamlined intake process for new players. Those who are acquired from another team can enter the team facility after they produce two negative test result over two days. Previously they needed to produce three negative test results over four days to enter the facility. “Street” free agents, who weren’t with another team prior to acquisition, can enter the team facility after a third negative result over three days.
+ A strong recommendation, but no league-wide requirement, that players wear face coverings while on the sidelines during games. It will be required for games played at the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi Stadium and Bills’ Stadium in Buffalo, because of local regulations in both cases.
+ Teams can send only one person to the opening coin toss, and all people involved must wear face coverings.
+ Despite requests, teams will not be allowed to travel on the day of games.
+ In the event that a player or team employee shows symptoms or tests positive while on the road, the league has contracted with a charter airline to fly them home separately from the rest of the team.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter contributed to this story.