NFL’s new COVID-19 rules include changes to return-to-play protocols, return of intensive restrictions


The NFL and the NFL Players Association have negotiated changes to the league’s COVID-19 protocols, some of which are being put in place immediately and could help teams whose rosters have been decimated this week.

Effective immediately, all 32 NFL teams will be placed in intensive COVID-19 protocols until the conclusion of Week 15. This means the re-imposition of mandatory mask wearing in team facilities, social distancing, grab-and-go meal service in team cafeterias, all-virtual meetings, limits on the number of people allowed in weight rooms and restrictions on activities outside the facility.

Teams already in intensive protocols due to ongoing outbreaks will continue daily testing of all players and personnel — vaccinated or not — but the rest of the teams won’t be subject to daily testing.

Also effective immediately, the league and the NFLPA will institute changes in the return-to-play COVID-19 protocols that will make it easier for players who are vaccinated and asymptomatic to return to practice and games.

Under the existing protocols, a vaccinated individual who tests positive for COVID-19 has to produce two negative tests 24 hours apart before being cleared to return. The new protocols relax that requirement and could, according to the source, enable teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team to get some players back for this weekend’s games.

There is no change to the rules for unvaccinated players, who will continue to be tested daily and must stay away from the team facility for at least 10 days before they can be cleared to return after a positive test.

The NFLPA also is pushing to allow players the ability to opt out of the season if they are uncomfortable with changes to the protocols, though it’s unclear whether the league would agree to that.

As of Thursday afternoon, there was no plan to mandate COVID-19 booster shots for vaccinated players, though the league and the NFLPA continue to strongly encourage unvaccinated players to get vaccinated and vaccinated players to receive boosters.

The Browns announced Wednesday that head coach Kevin Stefanski has tested positive for the coronavirus, and at least eight starters — including quarterback Baker Mayfield — have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week.

The Rams have placed 13 players on the COVID list in the past week, including star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and starting running back Darrell Henderson.

Washington has placed 17 players on the COVID list this week — including eight on Wednesday and three more on Thursday — bringing its total to 21 overall and 11 starters.

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