A day after the NFL was forced to postpone three Week 15 games as it grapples with a surge in Covid-19 cases among players, the league and the NFL Players Association updated the NFL’s Covid-19 protocols, effective at the end of Week 15.
The NFL’s new protocol, a copy of which was obtained by CNN, does not call for testing of asymptomatic, fully vaccinated players, coaches and other staff with close contact to players – a change from the previous rules, which required weekly testing of all fully vaccinated people.
Instead, asymptomatic, vaccinated personnel will now be subject to what the league refers to as “strategic and targeted” testing and may opt to undergo voluntary testing as frequently as they wish.
Players will also be provided with at-home testing kits for their own use and the use of cohabitants.
In a statement, the league and its players’ association said that they are working with medical advisers to address the new Omicron variant and how to stop the spread of the virus “to ensure we keep everyone safe and complete the remainder of the season responsibly.”
“After this weekend’s games, we have agreed to put into place a new set of protocols, which will include a more targeted testing plan, more flexibility for players to attend meetings virtually and also a high-risk player opt-out for the remainder of the season,” the statement added.
All individuals will be subject to “stringent symptom screening” prior to entering team facilities, according to the league’s protocol.
Fully vaccinated individuals who exhibit symptoms must isolate from other personnel and produce a negative test result before being allowed to enter team facilities.
Non-fully vaccinated individuals will continue to undergo daily testing, according to the updated protocol.
“The NFL and NFLPA medical teams believe that this comprehensive approach to testing, which mirrors public health recommendations and best practices employed in healthcare, offers the best opportunity for identifying and treating cases promptly and avoiding spread within the facility,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a memo to all teams which was obtained by CNN.
Other changes to the league’s Covid-19 protocols outlined in the memo include new restrictions on the amount of essential personnel allowed inside team facilities while players and coaches are present.
In his memo, Goodell said booster vaccines for all eligible players are “an important element of a comprehensive effort to combat Covid” and said the league and the players’ association will “continue to educate players on the benefits” of boosters.
The football league is not the only one affected by the surging infections.
The NCAA men’s basketball calendar has been turned upside down, with more than a dozen games canceled or postponed recently due to issues with the virus.
And at least five NHL teams have been forced to shut down in the past week due to concerns with positive cases and spread of the virus. On Saturday, the NHL and its players’ association announced newly enhanced Covid-19 protocols that will be in effect through at least January 7, citing an increased number of positive cases within the past two weeks and growing concern around the Omicron variant as reasons for the update. As part of the NHL’s new protocols, all fully vaccinated and unvaccinated people will be required to wear masks at all times while inside team facilities and during travel and daily testing will be required for all members of the team’s traveling party.