As the NFL and NFL Players Association try to hammer out an agreement on the protocols for training camp, the preseason (if there is one), and the regular season, testing continues to be the one factor that will most dramatically impact the execution of the final plan.
It needs to be readily available. It needs to be reliable. It needs to be fast. For now, there’s no guarantee that all three boxes will be checked.
The powers-that-be have believed for months that, by August or September, rapid-result testing based on saliva or a finger prick will be available. Last week, the the director of the National Institutes of Health expressed optimism that a test producing results in less than an hour will be available before football season begins.
“We want to see Americans have a chance to have some normal experiences of enjoying life,” Dr. Francis Collins told a Senate subcommittee regarding the availability of testing in time for the first kicking of a football. “I do believe this should be possible.”
Currently, that’s not the case — as evidenced by the delayed test results for the Washington Nationals.
The NFLPA wants daily testing at the outset of training camp, with frequency re-evaluated based on the rate of false negatives. The union also wants to move as quickly as possible from the mid-nasal swab to a saliva-based test.
Ideally, all players, coaches, and other key personnel will be tested on a daily basis. It’s critical to keep out of the facility, the locker room, the practice field, and/or the stadium anyone who may have the virus. Even with daily testing, false negatives have been an issue in other settings; a false negative could light the fuse on an outbreak for an NFL team.