With the Delta variant threatening player health and the league's hopes for a smooth season, the NFL and the NFLPA agreed Monday to increased COVID-19 testing.
The NFLPA still wants more.
The league and the union co-signed a new set of COVID-19 protocols for 2021 that calls for an increased rate of testing vaccinated players from every 14 days to every seven days. Players will have the option of being tested twice a week.
Relaxed testing protocols under fire amid Delta surge
The new approach arrived amid criticism that the league's previous protocols were too lax and didn't account for the threat of the highly contagious Delta variant that's responsible for the U.S. eclipsing 100,000 daily COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time since last winter's deadly surge.
Among other changes, the new protocols also require that vaccinated staff members wear masks when interacting with players and everyone to wear a mask in closed quarters such as buses and planes. Unvaccinated players will continue to be tested daily. The latter is a standard the NFLPA would like to see in place for vaccinated players too.
NFLPA still calling for daily testing of players
Shortly after the new protocols were announced, the NFLPA sent a memo to players declaring that it wants daily testing for everybody.
"We have worked closely with our medical advisors and, following those discussions, have recommended daily testing of both vaccinated and unvaccinated players and staff," the memo reads.
Here’s more from the NFLPA letter to players, adding the union didn’t oppose the NFL’s proposal for weekly testing of fully vaccinated individuals “because once a week is better than once every 14 days…” Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated players still tested daily. pic.twitter.com/voYKV6TMKJ
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) August 31, 2021
Why did NFLPA approve weekly testing?
So why did the NFLPA agreed to weekly testing while calling for daily testing? It's better than testing every 14 days, per the memo. And the union intends to keep negotiating for daily testing for its players.
"However, because testing once a week is better than once every 14 days, we will not oppose the changes outlined above," the memo continues, referencing the new COVID protocols. "Based on the advice of our medical experts and the emerging science concerning the spread of the Delta variant, we will continue to negotiate for a testing cadence that maximizes protections for players and ensures that games will be played this season."
Titans outbreak raises red flags
The league's new protocols arrived amid an outbreak among the Tennessee Titans. As of Thursday, nine Titans players and staff members had recently tested positive for COVID-19, including head coach Mike Vrabel and quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It's an outbreak that could have prompted the cancellation of a game had it occurred during the regular season, which starts next week.
The league and union initially agreed to testing vaccinated players every 14 days prior to the Delta surge. Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson reported last week that the Delta variant prompted the union to pressure NFL team owners to revert back to the league's 2020 pre-vaccine standard of testing all players daily.
Why doesn't the NFL support daily testing?
The NFL's chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills downplayed the importance of testing in transmitting COVID-19 on a conference call with reporters last week.
“People tend to focus on testing, but it’s very important that we realize, testing is not prevention,” Sills said, per the Tallahassee Democrat. “Testing is not preventing anyone from transmitting the virus. It is one part of our mitigation strategy but it’s not the key part."
Sills pointed to "other mitigation measures such as masking and the avoidance of in-person meetings and in-person meals" as key steps to slowing transmission.
Asked why they thought the league wouldn't support daily testing, a union official told Robinson: “I can’t even begin to rationalize it.”