After one week of games, the NFL’s COVID-19 defense barrier has been a fortress

·NFL columnist
·5 min read

It’s unofficially official: Thanks in large part to a relentless battery of daily COVID-19 testing and safety protocols, the NFL couldn’t have asked for a better start to a pandemic season.

After the league’s opening week of games and daily tests, no new NFL players were added to the league’s COVID-19 reserve list between Monday and Wednesday. That’s an unofficial indication that the NFL made it through Week 1 of the season with flying colors, possibly to the point of not a single player infection arising since Sunday’s games.

The official numbers for the period of Sept. 13-19 won’t be released until next week, but the lack of additions to the league’s COVID-19 reserve list is a strong suggestion that no positive infections occurred over the first weekend of the regular season. The NFL released its newest set of data on Wednesday, which measured tests from Sept. 6-12, encompassing Thursday night’s season opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans and then through Saturday.

According to the latest figures, 40,479 tests of players and team personnel from Sept. 6-12 resulted in two new positive tests among players and five among surrounding team personnel. Those seven new positive infections came from a group of 7,437 persons tested.

All this suggests that the NFL made it through Week 1 in stunningly strong fashion. This despite 16 NFL franchises traveling and all 32 teams entering into a hotel for at least one night prior to kickoff. If the data holds, that means the NFL has now passed the third significant tentpole testing moment of the 2020 season, which have included: the opening of training camps; the close of the preseason, which included a flurry of players changing teams; and now the first major travel event in the league’s season.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 13: The opening kick-off in a building void of fans during a National Football League game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers on September 13, 2020, at US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN.(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The Vikings and Packers kicked off the 2020 season without fans at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Chiefs, Jaguars give valuable data in hosting fans

There was a clear hope that this week’s data was expected to be another strong morale booster around the NFL’s pandemic protocols, particularly after the league ended the preseason nearly free of COVID-19 infections. The only persisting question was whether the NFL’s first swath of travel (and extra free time for home teams) would reverse the trend. It now looks like that didn’t happen.

Now the league is preparing to crunch travel data to see if it can sharpen protocols in the coming weeks, including proximity tracing from team travel, which will be provided by the trackers worn be players and personnel during their road trips.

Two league sources told Yahoo Sports that the NFL is working with health officials in Kansas City and Jacksonville to track whether those cities or surrounding areas experience a spike of COVID-19 positives following the Chiefs and Jaguars hosting home games. The sources told Yahoo Sports that a lack of subsequent outbreaks in those areas, as well as future games that host fans elsewhere, could help franchises without fans in the stands receive game day variances that could allow them to host home crowds at future games.

“The hurdle you can start to look at now that we have some fans coming in is whether [local medical officials] are seeing some hotspots that can be traced to the stadiums,” one league source said. “That’s something that can kind of be quantified or tracked and looked at, with the whole idea being, you know, maybe other [teams] that don’t have fans can build their case. You say, ‘Look, other teams and cities are getting this done with a high success and safety rate and we know how they are doing it.’ That’s one of the next frontiers, so to speak, as we move ahead.”

More eyes on home team players?

Interestingly, some teams exited the weekend games suggesting that it’s not the traveling teams that continue to be the worry. Rather, it’s the home teams.

Two high-ranking team sources said the travel protocols — with the accompanying trackers on personnel and “bubbled” road hotels — have translated into a straightforward businesslike environment where players have been vigilant (and monitored) in the face of risks. Conversely, it’s the home teams that have tended to have more free time, with the lack of travel giving players more time Friday and Saturday to relax in a familiar and potentially risky environment.

“I think if you see anyone let their guard down, its going to be the player who has that extra bit of free time on his hands after the Friday practice and then the early Saturday walkthrough,” one team source said. “They’re more likely to go out and be around people who aren’t part of NFL protocols than traveling teams are — at least until they get into their hotel the night before their games. … The road teams are traveling with a bubble, so I’d bet that if there’s a problem or really any worry, it’s the guys who are home and have the time to make some bad choices in familiar surroundings.”

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