NFL updates protocol to include game-day testing

The NFL has augmented its COVID-19 testing protocol to include game-day testing for all players, coaches and some other employees of each team, according to a memo sent to teams Monday night.

The league has been using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits to test upward of 8,000 people every week. Those classified as Tier 1 or Tier 2 have been tested every day except on game day, in part because PCR tests wouldn’t be returned in time for kickoff.

But teams will now make arrangements to conduct tests at team hotels in the morning, and they will take multiple members of their BioReference testing staff on road trips to facilitate tests. The league had previously been using POC (point-of-care) tests on game day when needed to confirm a false positive result from the day before, and POC tests will continue to be available if needed.

The NFL is continuing to navigate outbreaks involving two dozen members of the Tennessee Titans and four members of the New England Patriots. As promised, it has changed protocols multiple times to account for holes those tests results have revealed.

Other changes this week in the NFL’s protocol include:

  • Masks must be worn during all walk-through practices.

  • Coaches must wear masks or double-layered gaiters during games. They can wear a face shield in addition to, but not in lieu of, other face coverings.

  • NFL security will begin conducting protocol compliance checks starting in Week 7. Teams will be required to supply internal video upon request.

  • The league will make some exceptions to its bye-week protocol, which previously required players and coaches to remain close enough to the team facility to undergo daily testing. Anyone who misses a daily test during the bye week will be required to submit to reentry testing before they can resume practicing with the team.

  • Any team employee judged to be a close contact of someone who has had a confirmed positive test will be considered “high risk” and thus will be required to remain away from the team facility until five days have passed since the exposure. Depending on the timing of the exposure, that change could force a player to miss a game even if he has not yet produced (or never does produce) a confirmed positive test.

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