Two weeks out from its season kickoff, the NFL has some encouraging news.
One player remains on the league’s reserve/COVID-19 list.
Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard and New York Jets cornerback Bryce Hall were activated from the list on Thursday. That leaves only Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Ryan Pope remaining, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Pope’s presence on the list doesn’t mean that he contracted COVID-19. The list is reserved for players who have either tested positive or been compelled to quarantine because of close contact with someone carrying the coronavirus.
Continued downward trend
Thursday’s news marks a continued downward trend of COVID-19 cases and exposures in the NFL since training camps began. The league started the list on July 27 with 24 players. According to the NFLPA, 107 players tested positive for COVID-19 in the offseason, and 64 players have since tested positive since training camps began in late July.
As of Aug. 17, the reserve/COVID-19 list had 15 players. Now, that list stands at one.
Does this mean the NFL’s in the clear for the season? Of course not.
What this means
What it does mean is that the league and its franchises have implemented a system that’s successfully curbed the spread of the coronavirus among players as they participate in close-contact football drills at team facilities. It’s a clear win for the NFL.
But there is a long road ahead with significant risk factors joining the equation.
For now, NFL teams are operating in largely controlled environments. Teams don’t have their own NBA bubbles. But players are practicing at highly regulated facilities with players from some teams like the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints opting to isolate themselves together in hotels when they leave practice.
For the players who leave practice and go home, the continued downward COVID-19 trend indicates that they’re collectively approaching the pandemic responsibly.
Upcoming COVID-19 challenges
The next challenge the NFL will face is when the games actually begin. The Kansas City Chiefs will host the Houston Texans to kick off the season on Sept. 10. That Thursday night game will be followed by a full slate of Sunday games and two more on Monday night.
That means that 16 teams will travel, stay in hotels and visit opposing cities and stadiums, a process that will be repeated each week as teams travel to cities like Houston, Miami, New Orleans and Los Angeles, which have been coronavirus hot spots this summer.
One advantage that the NFL will have over MLB is that many of the cities that were peaking with COVID-19 cases at the outset of baseball season have started to trend down. One potential downside for football is the unknown impact colder weather will have on the pandemic.
The NFL’s best hope of navigating this approaching COVID-19 season is to maintain the diligence that has gotten it this far. And that, of course, will guarantee nothing.
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