2 years into pandemic, NFL is eliminating COVID-19 testing

INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL’s fight against COVID-19 has come to an end. In an announcement this week via memo to teams, the league declared an end to COVID testing for the 2022 season.

The decision was reached in conjunction with the NFL Players Association, coming weeks after prospective draft picks and a handful of agents threatened to boycott the annual scouting combine over a forced COVID “bubble” that would have separated players from key advisers during the event. Following that threat to bypass the combine, the NFL sent a memo eliminating the bubble restriction while stating that the league was continuing to “evolve” policies in accordance to medial guidance.

"Based on current encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity of COVID-19, the evolving guidance from the CDC, changes to state law and the counsel of our respective experts, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to suspend all aspects of the joint COVID-19 Protocols, effective immediately," the memo reads.

The NFL is ending COVID-19 testing. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The NFL is ending COVID-19 testing. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The memo added that even given the suspension of the league's protocols, "clubs are required to remain in compliance with state and local law."

That was the third major alteration to the league’s COVID policies in the past 10 weeks. The first was the elimination of weekly testing for vaccinated and asymptomatic players in mid-December. The second was the elimination of daily testing for unvaccinated players, making them subject to screening only if they reported having symptoms to their team.

Both of these steps were also agreed upon by the NFLPA, which has faced mounting pressure from players to entirely eliminate COVID testing from the league. Then came February, when a swath of prospective draft picks and agents threatened to pull out of the combine testing if a COVID-19 bubble was instituted.

In the middle of what essentially became the league’s “honor system” for COVID testing policies, the NFL also eliminated random spot-testing, shifting entirely to self-reporting. The result was a dramatic reduction in reported positive tests during the playoffs, which was suggestive that either the league had suddenly beaten back COVID or that cases were slipping between gaps in the honor system. But it showcased what was not up for debate: the NFL’s willingness to draw back testing procedures and move forward with business as usual.