NFL updates protocols as COVID-19 cases rise around league

NEW YORK — The National Football League updated its protocols on Thursday, a reaction to increased COVID-19 cases league-wide, the league said in a statement.

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Effective immediately, all 32 NFL teams will be placed in intensive COVID-19 protocols until the end of Week 15, which is Monday night.

As part of the changes, the NFL is requiring masks of all personnel regardless of vaccination status and is mandating remote or outdoor meetings, according to The Associated Press. Masks will not be required outdoors or during practices and/or walk-throughs conducted in the practice bubble, according to NFL.com.

The league also set limits on the number of people allowed in weight rooms, to 15 people at once, and restrictions on activities outside of team facilities, ESPN reported.

The NFL is also stopping in-person meals by instituting grab-and-go food, and prohibiting outside visitors while teams are traveling, according to the AP.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff. The changes we are making today aim to address the increase in cases and the advent of the omicron variant,” the league said in a statement. “We will continue to strongly encourage booster shots as the most effective protection.

“Based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19. All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community.”

For the rest of the season, players who test positive but are vaccinated and asymptomatic can immediately begin retesting. Players now will only need one negative test to return to the team; previously, a player needed two negative tests.

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The Chicago Bears, who are hosting Thursday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, were missing all three of their coordinators, according to head coach Matt Nagy -- offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and defensive coordinator Sean Desai and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor -- because of COVID-19 protocols, according to the AP.

“It seems like it’s never going away,” New York Giants owner John Mara said about the virus Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the Cleveland Browns announced that quarterback Baker Mayfield and coach Kevin Stefanski had tested positive for COVID-19. The Los Angeles Rams placed defensive back Jalen Ramsey on their COVID-19 reserve list just before Monday night’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Across the NFL, 37 players went on reserve lists with positive COVID-19 tests, The Athletic reported. More than 25 cases were identified by Tuesday, the publication reported.

Another 31 cases were reported Wednesday, bringing the three-day total to more than 100, according to The Athletic. Before Monday, the highest single-day count during the NFL regular season had been 18.

“At some point, you feel like you are fighting a ghost,” Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank mused. “You don’t know where to swing.”

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