The NFL stands only hours away from checking the 269th box on a 269-box grid, completing the full 2020 season despite the pandemic. It has happened in large part because the NFL ditched its original plan to test players, coaches, and essential staff three times per week and instead adopted the NFL Players Association’s strong recommendation that off-site PCR tests be conducted every single day.
It’s curious, then, that on the day before the last game of the 2020 season, both teams playing in the Super Bowl opted not to submit to off-site PCR testing. According to the league, both the Chiefs and the Buccaneers administered on-site, rapid-result PCR tests on Saturday — and neither team administered off-site PCR tests.
With the off-site PCR testing still the Cadillac standard for spotting infections, it’s fair to conclude that the teams opted to roll the dice on the possibility that someone would have been flagged as positive via a Saturday off-site PCR test. That would have automatically knocked the player who tested positive out of the game.
On Sunday, the teams will follow the normal game-day protocol, including off-site PCR testing. The results possibly could be returned during the game, and a positive result would prompt the league to remove the player from the field.
The more likely outcome is that the test results won’t arrive until after the last piece of confetti falls. If it turns out that one of the players tested positive via Sunday off-site PCR testing, it’s possible that player also would have tested positive via Saturday off-site PCR testing. Which sets the stage for others to potentially test positive in the coming days, if the player who would have tested positive on Saturday infected anyone else on Sunday.
The decision to skip Saturday off-site testing therefore stretches, if only a bit, the donut hole with which the NFL has co-existed for 22 weeks, regarding incubation period and the lag between sample collection and result. Still, why not go ahead and do the Saturday off-site PCR testing?
Only one reasonable explanation can be identified for doing it: With one game left, and with a championship riding on it, both teams were willing to assume the kind of risk that, throughout the entire season, never was assumed by any team.