NFL heightens COVID-19 protocols around Thanksgiving weekend regardless of vaccine status

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The NFL is instituting stricter health and safety protocols for vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals ahead of Thanksgiving as the number of COVID-19 cases are again on the rise.

The league will require mandatory masking for all and will test all players and staff two times directly after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, it said in a memo to teams Tuesday. It also strongly urged clubs to provide testing for families and friends of those staying with players and personnel through the holiday. 

Infection counts are beginning to rise around the U.S. with the highest increases seen in Michigan and Minnesota, per The New York Times. Hospitalizations and reports of new deaths have remained stable, per the Times. 

There are several factors contributing to the increase, including colder weather forcing people inside and the more contagious Delta variant, health officials said. Those will be exacerbated with individuals, likely with different levels of vaccination rates, from different regions gathering indoors for holidays. 

NFL institutes holiday guidelines for COVID 

All personnel and players in all three tiers, no matter their vaccination status, will be required to wear masks at all times when inside the facilities from Thanksgiving (Nov. 25) through Dec. 1. Masking is not required while outdoors or in a practice bubble. 

Individuals and players in Tier 1 and 2 will be tested Nov. 29 and Dec. 1, in an adjusted testing schedule. Teams playing on Monday and Thursday of that week will have sightly different testing schedules, per the memo's footnote. 

The league "strongly encouraged" clubs to have drive-through testing available for individuals visiting or staying with players or staff members through the holiday to mitigate any positive tests to players. The testing should take place before any family or friends interact with players and personnel, the league advised. 

NFL guidelines on protocol enforcement 

The NFL outlined its protocol enforcement measures, including that non-vaccinated players should not be gathering in groups inside or outside of the facility. Violations could result in discipline against the player, staff member or club. 

League staff are available to visit facilities to go over protocol and/or be placed in "highly visible areas to remind players about mask usage and physical distancing," as was done in training camp. 

Teams will also be required to provide video camera surveillance of their weight room and cafeteria areas to NFL personnel if asked by the league office. There should be cameras in place and filming on or before Nov. 29, per the NFL memo.