The NFL and NBA are changing their Covid-19 protocols as cases rise
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The NFL and NBA are changing their Covid-19 protocols as cases rise

Two of the top professional sports leagues in the country are tightening their Covid-19 protocols in response to the surge in cases.

On Thursday, the National Football League and NFL Players Association agreed to new rules that place the league’s 32 teams in restrictive protocols until Monday. It follows nearly a doubling of Covid-19 cases among players earlier this week.

In addition, the National Basketball Association and its players’ association have agreed to updated protocols for the holiday season, according to a memo obtained by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

It will require increased testing from December 26 to January 8, and masks will be required for players, coaches and staff on the bench, as well as in the locker room, weight room and training room and while traveling with the teams, according to the memo.

Wojnarowski, citing the memo, also reported that if a player received a booster shot more than two weeks ago, “he will not be subject to holiday or gameday testing.”

CNN has reached out to the NBA and the players association for comment.

The rise in cases has already caused headaches for teams across professional sports.

While the NFL has not postponed or canceled any games, several teams lost key players placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list. The NBA has so far postponed two games while the pandemic has led the National Hockey League to postpone 10 games so far.

On Thursday an NHL game in Montreal was played with no fans in attendance.

The Canadiens organization said Quebec officials made the request based on “the spiraling rise of COVID-19 cases in the region.”

The team said games in January will be played with the arena at 50% capacity.

Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations in the United States are rising once again, with a seven-day average of 118,717 new cases each day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. That’s 40% higher than a month ago.

Disquiet among players

An NFL source told CNN that 28 NFL players tested positive for the novel coronavirus on Tuesday and there were 37 positive tests among players on Monday.

The two-day total is more than double the 29 positive tests from players between November 14 — 27, the last publicly released testing data from the NFL.

CNN has reached out to the league for an updated number of positive cases.

Under the new NFL protocol, teams will have to reimpose restrictions such as mandatory mask-wearing while indoors in team facilities, social distancing, grab-and-go meal service in team cafeterias, limits on the number of people allowed in weight rooms, restrictions on activities outside the facility including dining out to eat on the road and all-virtual meetings.

And at least one player isn’t at all pleased. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield, one of more than a dozen Browns on the reserve/Covid-19 list, spoke out ahead of his team’s scheduled game on Saturday versus the Las Vegas Raiders.

“Make up your damn mind on protocols,” Mayfield wrote in a tweet, addressing it to the NFL.

In another tweet, Mayfield wrote, “Actually caring about player safety would mean delaying the game with this continuing at the rate it is.”

Mayfield’s teammate, Jarvis Landry, in retweeting a post that asked whether the game should be postponed, wrote: “Should not even be a question !! YES.”

The Browns are scheduled to play the Las Vegas Raiders in Cleveland on Saturday.

CNN has asked the Browns for an updated number of players on the reserve/Covid-19 list. As of Wednesday, there were 14 players but it was unclear whether all the test results were known then.

In addition, the Washington Football team has 21 players on the list and the Los Angeles Rams have 25. An NFL roster comprises 53 players.

The NFL describes the reserve/Covid-19 list as being for players who either test positive for Covid-19 or who have been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons.

NFL medical chief says two-thirds of players with positive tests were asymptomatic

The NFL has no plans as of now to postpone the Browns-Raiders game, Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters at an NFL meeting in Irving, Texas.

“We feel confident with continuing changes and adaptions to our protocols that we can do that,” Goodell said Wednesday.

The league and the players’ union also made changes to allow fully vaccinated asymptomatic players to “test-out” of quarantine and return to practice and games quicker.

The NFL provided three testing options for a fully vaccinated individual to return provided they are asymptomatic for at least 24 hours. An individual’s return from quarantine is possible as soon as the day after his or her initial positive test, according to the updated protocols.

Before the update, fully vaccinated individuals needed to return two negative tests 24 hours apart to be activated off the reserve/Covid-19 list.

Fully vaccinated individuals will continue to test weekly and unvaccinated individuals daily.

NFL officials said in a statement that its protocols have evolved and the new ones reflect the rising cases in the league and the emergence of the new Omicron variant.

Some of the NFL players who tested positive for the coronavirus had the variant, NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said Wednesday. He also said two-thirds of the players with positive tests were asymptomatic and others had mild symptoms “that might not even cause them to seek a test in ordinary circumstances.”

On December 2, the league stated that 94.4% of its players were fully vaccinated along with “nearly 100%” of other NFL personnel. The NFL, like other sports leagues, does not mandate that players be vaccinated.

“I think everybody’s entirely focused on how do we stay safe, how do we do that in the best possible way,” Goodell said. “Dr. Sills has been consistent, as well as NFLPA medical experts and our independent experts, is the best way to do that is vaccines and boosters. That is not a full-proof mechanism, but it’s certainly the best way to do that.”

The NFL said earlier this week that coaches and staff members who have contact with players must get a booster shot by December 27.

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