As the NFL prepares for the eventual return of football activities and the start of a season amid the coronavirus pandemic, its chief medical officer is focused on responding properly when some players and staff inevitably test positive for the virus.
“We fully well expect that we will have positive cases that arise,” Dr. Allen Sills told reporters on a conference call Tuesday. “Because we think that this disease will remain endemic in society, it shouldn’t be a surprise that new positive cases arise.
“Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and prevent spread to any other participants. We’re working very diligently on that, and we’ll have some detailed plans at a later time.”
Earlier Tuesday, Sills and other medical officials joined NFL owners for a virtual meeting, discussing current protocols and plans for how to proceed.
Teams were allowed to open their facilities — if permitted by local legislation — beginning Tuesday, although many teams have been cautious to bring many people back into the facility. Coaches and players are not currently permitted due to concerns over a competitive disadvantage for teams who are in states where they are not yet permitted to reopen.
To this point, teams have held virtual offseason programs that — like most of the traditional offseason programs — are fully voluntary. When asked if facilities could reopen in time for on-field work before the end of June, Sills was noncommittal.
“We’re not putting dates on the calendar at this point, because I’m looking at this as not date-based but science- and technology-based,” he said. “We feel there are certain important steps that need to occur, with regard to testing, with regard to test availability, with regard to test reliability, and also our continued evolution of understanding of how to manage exposures.
“All of those things are continuing to evolve. When we and the players’ association feel that we are at a point of satisfaction with that science, then we’ll be ready to move forward.”
Most do not expect teams to have players back on the field until training camp, both because it would be difficult to get protocols in place sooner, and also because it’s unlikely that all NFL teams would be allowed to open their facilities.
Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter, the president of the NFL Players Association told reporters on a conference call Tuesday “there’s a long list of hurdles” to clear before players will feel safe returning to the field.
“Coming in contact with other people is a risk of exposure,” Tretter said, “so that’s never going to be down to zero. Our job (at the NFLPA) is to try to get that to as close to zero as possible, and that’s why you kind of have to look at everything.”