NFL reducing COVID-19 quarantine time from 10 days to 5 including unvaccinated players

After the Centers for Disease Control changed its guidance on COVID-19 quarantines, the NFL is doing the same with its health and safety protocols.

Instead of 10 days, asymptomatic players who test positive for COVID-19 will now be required to isolate for just five days. This includes unvaccinated players. The NFL and NFLPA agreed on the protocol change and released a memo with the details on Tuesday afternoon.

The change reflects CDC guidance announced on Monday recommending a five-day isolation period for asymptomatic Americans who have tested positive for COVID-19. The CDC recommends that people still experiencing symptoms after five days remain isolated and that everybody continue to wear a mask around others for the full 10-day period. The guidance change arrived in response to the highly contagious Omicron variant that's led to a spike in cases across the United States.

"Not all of those cases are going to be severe," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told the Associated Press on Monday. "In fact many are going to be asymptomatic. We want to make sure there is a mechanism by which we can safely continue to keep society functioning while following the science."

Some medical experts have criticized the new CDC guidance for failing to require a negative test before someone leaves isolation.

“It’s frankly, reckless to proceed like this,” Dr. Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “Using a rapid test or some type of test to validate that the person isn’t infectious is vital.”

The NFL's new protocol reflects a change in CDC guidance issued on Monday. (Kirby Lee/Reuters)
The NFL's new protocol reflects a change in CDC guidance issued on Monday. (Kirby Lee/Reuters)

How will this impact the NFL?

The NFL's change could have a significant impact on games with playoff implications during the last two weeks of the regular season. For example, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz was placed on the league's reserve/COVID-19 list on Tuesday.

It's not clear if he tested positive or was considered a close contact. If he tested positive, Wentz would be required to miss Sunday's critical game against the Las Vegas Raiders under previous guidelines that require unvaccinated players to isolate for 10 days regardless of their symptoms. Wentz has previously said that he's not vaccinated. The new guidelines open the door to Wentz playing against Las Vegas if he tested positive on Monday or prior.

The NFL's announcement follows a similar change announced by the NBA on Monday. The NBA now requires players with positive tests to isolate for six days instead of 10 as long as they're asymptomatic.

Like the rest of the country, the NFL and NBA have seen a spike in COVID-19 cases attributed to the Omicron variant. The increase in positive cases has led to a surge of players in both leagues who are unavailable to play, leading to the postponement of games involving teams experiencing roster attrition.