It has been a week since the NFL and NFLPA altered their COVID-19 protocols, including a more targeted testing approach that reduced the testing cadence of fully vaccinated, asymptomatic players. It also raised the question of how players with symptoms would respond.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills described himself as "pleased" at the way players have self-reported their own symptoms, leading to testing and eventually several players landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
"I am pleased to see the system working the way we set it up," Sills said Friday. "We do believe in community responsibility to your team and your teammates. I am personally pleased to see people come forward and say, 'Hey, I don't feel well', and recognize that they must make sure they are not endangering anyone else. It's a great lesson, and I think a model for how we should be in the outside world, in schools, in business. The reality is, those in the NFL who have symptoms should get checked and tested and treated as such so they don't expose others. This is our path forward."
Over the past two weeks, there have been 370 players placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Over the last week, the numbers actually eclipsed the previous week.
From Dec. 13-18, there were 165 players on the COVID list. From Dec. 20-25, there were 205 -- with a high of 46 on Dec. 23.
Sills said that while the requirements for testing changed -- no more weekly testing for fully vaccinated players -- people are mistaken when they say the league is not testing a lot.
"If you look at who is being tested, of course you have the unvaccinated players, anyone with symptoms, anyone [who] is a high-risk vaccinated contact," Sills said. "And then you have anyone who voluntarily wants to take a test, maybe someone has a high-risk person in their household. And then a fifth category, which is random sampling. So we are very close to doing as many tests on a regular basis as prior to the testing change."
While the number of players added to the reserve/COVID-19 list is high, the majority of fully vaccinated players who have tested positive have little or no symptoms, per the league. Before the Omicron variant emerged, just 20% of players on the list cleared protocols prior to 10 days. Now, that rate is more than 50%, according to a league source, making roster maneuvering more manageable. In addition, as Sills has said, teams are not seeing spread inside the facility among asymptomatic, fully vaccinated players.
Self-reporting symptoms, in fact, has generated a substantial number of positive cases.
In Kansas City, for instance, four people were tested randomly in the NFL's spot testing program, according to a source informed of the Chiefs' situation. One was tight end Travis Kelce, who is vaccinated and had no symptoms.
The next day, players such as wide receiver Tyreek Hill and Harrison Butker self-reported symptoms and landed on the COVID list, according to a source informed of the Chiefs' situation. Hill was cleared Saturday, Butker is unvaccinated and must miss 10 days, while Kelce has a chance to clear today.
The Los Angeles Rams held practice on Friday, which marked the first time in two weeks that they had a full practice after extensive COVID issues (the rest were walk- or jog-throughs). General manager Les Snead said you could tell by the end of their win over the Seahawks the players who hadn't practiced because their technique was off.
"I think the positive is," Snead said, "we got hit by a tidal wave, so now we can handle the flashes. We're more calloused."
Asked about keeping his QB out of harm's way -- so as not to deal with a situation like the Ravens or Saints, who both lost their expected starting QBs to COVID-19 this week -- Snead said Matthew Stafford often wears a mask regardless "just to play defense."