The National Football League sent out a memo Wednesday stating that all teams must move into intensive protocols for the remainder of the 2020 season starting on Saturday. The goal is to reduce close contact and limit the spread of COVID-19.
Intensive protocols require teams to hold virtual meetings, and players and team personnel must wear masks and mouth shields at all times during team practices. Players and coaches cannot gather away from the facility.
Players and coaches must test negative from the previous day's testing before entering league facilities, in addition to having regular PCR testing. All meals must be served in a grab-and-go style to prevent large gatherings in meal rooms. The use of the locker room is also discouraged on days when games are not played.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday in the memo that the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday will introduce new risks for exposure to COVID-19.
"Because we have a highly sophisticated program of daily testing, we know when the virus enters our facilities, which underscores the importance of contact tracing and other steps to minimize close contacts within a facility," Goodell said.
"Recent experience has highlighted the importance of minimizing high-risk close contacts; on multiple occasions, we have seen individuals identified on that basis test positive within a short time. We have also seen many instances in which effective action by clubs to minimize these close contacts prevented the virus from spreading within the club, and avoided players or coaches being ruled out of practice or games."
The league introduced intensive protocols on Oct. 1 but they were in use only for teams that had positive tests or had been exposed to a team with positive tests, NFL.com's Judy Battista reports.
According to the NFL, 28 teams have been in the intensive protocol at some point during the season and many have adapted some of the protocol's restrictions. Because of the league's intensive protocols and the mandate of a five-day isolation period for those identified as "high-risk close contacts" of a player or coach testing positive, the NFL has been able to eliminate widespread outbreaks.
Since the major outbreak by the Tennessee Titans, the NFL has played all games on schedule in the last five weeks. The NFL reported that clubs that were in the intensive protocol saw a more than 50% reduction in overall close contacts with other people at the facility, compared to teams not in intensive protocols.
The league also reported that there have been more than 20 cases of positive tests while teams are in intensive protocols that did not have any high-risk close contacts. As a result, the league says the intensive protocol is effective at getting teams to space out in all parts of the facility.
"As we continue through the season, it will likely be necessary to take further steps to address broader conditions," Goodell said.