With the Ravens and Steelers scheduled to play on Tuesday night, the Ravens continue to generate positive COVID-19 results. That has not yet delayed the game for what would be a third time.
The NFL believes that the lingering positive results (tight end Mark Andrews and linebacker Matthew Judon tested positive on Saturday) represent the tail end of the transmissions. The recent positives were expected, based on the results of the league’s aggressive contact-tracing procedures.
With the Ravens facility shut down since in-person meetings and most of a walk-through practice on Tuesday, the incubation period for anyone who may have caught the virus in the building is closing. At some point, any additional positives are the result not of the outbreak but community spread.
The NFL remains willing to assume the risk of players shedding virus at practices and games before testing positive, for exposures happening in the community. The league is willing to assume that risk because it has no choice, given the delay between sample collection and the generation of test results.
A donut hole always will exist on game days. (For the first several weeks of the season, the league wasn’t testing players on game day.) That donut hole keeps getting larger and larger as the infection rate in the various communities where NFL teams do business keeps going higher and higher.
The Baltimore outbreak reportedly started with a strength and conditioning coach who didn’t report symptoms and didn’t consistently wear a mask. Still, the strength and conditioning coach whom the Ravens refuse to name got it somewhere.
Everyone who gets it gets it somewhere. All players and coaches need to do a better job of complying with the league’s protocols in order to keep it from spreading when they have it, and some inevitably will. As we’ve seen all season long, they don’t consistently comply. If that doesn’t change soon, games will be lost, players won’t be paid, and a 16-team playoff tree eventually will be populated with teams that played different numbers of games.
The easiest solution, of course, would be to put all teams in a home-market bubble immediately. For reasons that reasonably trace to collective bargaining, the league hasn’t asked — and the union hasn’t offered.
Hopefully, both sides will have a simultaneous epiphany before games are lost and the integrity of the season has been undermined. Then again, the integrity season already has been undermined by procedures that preemptively knock out players based on potential exposure while compelling teams to go forward, with the latest and most prominent example being the Broncos using a practice-squad receiver as their starting quarterback against one of the best defenses in the league.