As the NFL heads for the final stretch of the 2021 season, the league (along with the rest of the world) is having to call an audible on COVID-19 guidelines as rapid spread and major outbreaks continue to occur.
The Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams (who play the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday) are among several teams dealing with serious outbreaks among players and staff, and while the NFL has not postponed any games this season like they did in 2020, there is serious concern about what will happen in the coming weeks. In a memo sent out by the league office on Thursday, new COVID-19 protocol has provided a way for vaccinated, asymptomatic players a quicker way to return to the active roster even if they test positive during the week.
A vaccinated NFL player who tests positive and is asymptomatic now can return with two negative PCR tests both taken as soon as the next day; a negative PCR test and a negative rapid test taken as soon as the next day; or two negative rapid tests taken as soon as the next day.— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) December 16, 2021
To be clear: The new NFL COVID protocols make it possible for anyone who's tested positive this week to "test back in" and play this weekend (yes, even if you tested positive today and play Saturday) as long as they're vaccinated and show no symptoms.— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) December 16, 2021
So for example, Tyler Lockett is on the COVID list for the Seahawks and he is vaccinated. If he doesn’t show symptoms and gets the required negative test results before gameday, then he can be removed from the reserve list.
While the extremely transmissible Omicron variant is not confirmed to be the main driver of these outbreaks, it’s pretty clear that it’s circulating throughout the world and infection rates are soaring even in fully vaccinated people. Day-to-day operations for teams now create more uniformity among vaccinated and unvaccinated:
Summing up a call with Dr. Allen Sills on COVID protocol changes:— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 16, 2021
— More restrictions & mask wearing.
— More players likely test out sooner, with an altered/science-based new threshold for testing.
— Back to part of the virtual nature of meetings like last year.
Effective immediately, all 32 NFL teams will be placed in intensive COVID-19 protocols until the conclusion of Week 15. This means the reimposition of mandatory mask wearing in team facilities, social distancing, grab-and-go meal service in team cafeterias, all-virtual meetings, limits on the number of people allowed in weight rooms and restrictions on activities outside the facility.
At this point, forget about the potential for Seahawks-Rams to be postponed — LA has over two-dozen on the COVID list — the NFL was lucky to avoid such a late-season surge in COVID cases last season, you wonder if we will see the pause button hit on the season as the world grapples with yet another curveball in this pandemic.