The NFL and the NFL Players Association have not yet finalized an arrangement for the return of players to team facilities. The NFL and the NFLPA nevertheless have agreed on a preliminary protocol for how the facilities will operate when players return amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a memo dated June 7, Commissioner Goodell informed all teams of the standards that have been developed to date, with primary focus on: (1) player, staff, and family education; and (2) facility preparation and maintenance, including disinfection and hygiene standards.
The memo attaches a nine-page document outlining the club facility protocol for 2020. The document restricts access to certain specific areas, including the locker room, practice fields, playing fields, training rooms, weight rooms, meal rooms, medical exam areas, and player lounges. The protocol separates the various club employees into tiers.
Tier 1 includes players, coaches, trainers, doctors, the strength/conditioning coach, and the head equipment manager. Teams are limited to a maximum of 60 persons, in addition to the players on the roster, in restricted areas. Tier 2 includes other non-playing personnel (like the General Manager, ownership representatives, football operations employees, etc.) who will be required to maintain physical distance from Tier 1 individuals or use Personal Protective Equipment. The protocol limits Tier 2 access to 20 persons in a given restricted area. Tier 3 includes persons who perform essential facility, stadium, or event services, but who do not require close contact with Tier 1 individuals. Examples include cleaning crews, field managers, etc. Tier 3 individuals are permitted to access restricted areas only when Tier 1 individuals are not present.
Other requirements include separate entrances for Tier 1 and Tier 2 personnel (where possible), automated or no-touch doorways (where possible), and daily screening for all players and club employees with access to restricted areas.
The screening questions are as following: (1) have you been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19? (2) are you experiencing a cough, shortness of breath, or sore throat? (3) have you had a fever (temperature above 100.4) in the last 48 hours? (4) have you had new loss of taste and/or smell? and (5) have you had vomiting or diarrhea in the last 24 hours?
The protocol also requires physical distancing for all players and/or staff, even if that means rearranging and/or removing furniture in meeting rooms, locker rooms, etc. Strength and conditioning workouts must be limited to small groups, the training staff much use individual, staggered appointments, and all other appointments, meetings, and workouts must be arranged to permit physical distancing.
Meetings must continue to be virtual, whenever possible. Efforts must be made to hold any in-person meetings outdoors, with participants sitting apart from one another and wearing masks.
All players must wear masks in the facility, expect when a mask cannot be worn due to interference with the performance of athletic activities.
The memo explains that more information will be coming regarding “testing and treatment of persons who test positive or otherwise show symptoms of the virus, team travel, and other matters.”
It all makes plenty of sense. But it also becomes hard to reconcile such extreme measures from Monday through Saturday with the close, personal, and intimate quarters players and coaches will occupy on Sundays. Especially those who are blocking and tackling and jostling and otherwise, you know, playing football.
In those moments, sharing of droplets and other potentially infectious material will be inevitable. Which makes it even more important to ensure that every player is virus-free before stepping onto the field. Otherwise, the virus will surely spread through the two teams playing in a given game like wildfire.