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BREAKING: COVID Outbreak in NFL: Now what?



Happy Week 4, everyone! Man, that was a hell of a ride on Sunday, emotionally. Thank goodness the Buffalo Bills came out on top because this week would be horrible, and all we would hear about is the 25 point blown lead and the horrific collapse. My take: The Bills are 3-0, we’re on to Vegas, and Jerry Hughes is currently the NFL’s highest-rated edge rusher with a 40% pass rush win rate 😉.

On Tuesday morning, the league was hit hard with some unfortunate news. Multiple media outlets reported that the Tennessee Titans had three players and five personnel staff members test positive for COVID-19, making it an official COVID Outbreak in NFL. The three Titans players include DT DaQuan Jones, LS Beau Brinkley, and TE Tommy Hudson, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. On Wednesday morning around 9:30 a.m., NFL’s Tom Pelissero reported that another Titans player tested positive from Tuesday’s round of tests. Let’s look at the order of events that transpired over the past few days:

  • On Saturday 9/26/20, Titans LB’s Coach Shane Bowen had a positive test result prior to the team leaving for Minnesota and was held back in Nashville for obvious reasons.
  • No additional tests were administered on Sunday, as league protocol does not require testing on game day.
  • Players and coaches for all 32 teams are tested again Monday morning upon arrival to the team facilities. These Monday morning tests are the ones that came back with positive results, which were made public on Tuesday morning. The NFL came out with a statement confirming these results and that these were not “false positives”, like the ones we saw happen to multiple teams (including the Bills) during training camp.
  • Reports from the Titans say the players and coaches who tested positive are all asymptomatic, meaning they do not have any of the COVID-19 symptoms.
  • The Vikings, who hosted Tennessee this past Sunday, have not yielded any positive tests from both Monday and Tuesday’s rounds of testing, which is a great sign.
  • Tom Pelissero of NFL reported on Wednesday morning that another Titans player tested positive from Tuesday’s round of testing.
  • Wednesday morning around 11:30 am- The NFL postpones the Week 4 matchup between the Steelers and Titans, with options of playing it Monday night instead or moving it to another week.

COVID Outbreak in NFL: Now What?

Let’s take a look at what the process will be for the week:

  • The Titans released a statement that the team will be closing their facility until at least Saturday, October 3rd. The team will be holding meetings and “practice” remotely.
  • Per the Minnesota Vikings official Twitter account, the team has also suspended all in-person activities in the COVID outbreak in NFL and will be shutting their facility down as well until further notice, as this is part of the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol. The team will be allowed back into the facility once they return another round of negative test results.
  • As of now, the NFL continues to plan on having the Titans-Steelers game to still be played this week. I am not sure of what the NFL’s plan is until then, but it’s safe to assume it includes a lot of testing and disinfecting of the Titans’ facility.
  • Here is a snapshot of the NFL’s protocol for handling a positive test per Kevin Seifert of ESPN:

What if the Steelers-Titans game cannot be played this week and has to be pushed back? This will be very interesting to keep an eye on. Some things, during this COVID outbreak in NFL, that have run through my mind include:

  • Will the Titans stadium be safe to host a football game?
  • What if the Steelers have players or personnel refuse to travel to Tennessee?
  • What if more Titans players develop symptoms or test positive prior to Sunday?
  • Per Adam Schefter, there is a contingency plan in place. First, the NFL is considering playing the game Monday night still. Another option is to move the game into week 7 and move the Ravens-Steelers game to week 8 when both of those teams are scheduled to have their BYE week. This will be very interesting to see unfold.
  • Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported that the league will also look into playing on Tuesday night as well. It is believed that it is more likely for this game to be played this week than being pushed back to a later week.

The NFL’s response

Seeing how the NFL handles this will be interesting and the blueprint for future considerations and expectations. This positive collection of tests seemed inevitable for an NFL team sans a bubble like the NHL and NBA had. While it looked great for the first two weeks, it was bound to happen now that multiple teams have traveled a couple of times for away games. Now, we get to see the NFL’s protocols and responses to this situation and how well they can handle this. I hope this will not be the first domino to fall where we see multiple players over the league test positive. If this happens, it will be detrimental to the integrity of the league and the success of teams. If a team were to lose a QB or key player, it will have huge implications in the win and loss columns for their teams.

We also need to wonder if they make any changes to their current protocol. One thing that I think would make a difference is if they began testing on game days in addition to testing the other six days. If I had any say (which obviously I don’t), I would suggest to the league do point of care testing for each player on mornings of game day. Point of care testing (POC) is done right there and yields results in minutes. For example, when we take blood sugars via finger sticks on patients with diabetes, that is considered a POC test, since we administer the test and receive results right there. However, there are some drawbacks to antigen POC testing.

According to the CDC, antigen tests may not detect all active infections, based on their mechanism of action. These tests are very specific for the virus but are not as sensitive as molecular PCR tests (the test that requires the swabs up your nose). Therefore, positive results from antigen tests are highly accurate, but there is a higher chance of false negatives, so negative results do not rule out infection. While these tests have a chance of producing false negatives, it’s better than not testing at all and can help find more positive cases if a player were to have a positive POC test. Clearly, some changes need to be made since the protocols put in place currently were unable to prevent the spread in the NFL community.

How this impacts the Bills

Around the time when players had to make their decision on whether they were going to opt-in or out, we heard their reasoning for their decisions. Star players like Tre White, Micah Hyde, and Josh Allen raved about the NFL’s protocols and safety measures in place and felt more than comfortable with the guidelines implemented over at One Bills Drive.

Some precautions in place include wearing a mask while on the field and in the facility, proper distancing of the lockers in the locker room. Strict cleaning/disinfecting of the team’s facility, as well as daily testing before entering the facility for both players and staff.

Looking at the schedule, you will see that the Bills are scheduled to travel to Buffalo South (aka Bills Mafia’s 2nd home aka Nissan Stadium in Nashville, TN). Let’s hope the stadium is ready to host the Bills by then and no Titans players are positive for the virus. Do any of the Bills players refuse to travel there for safety concerns? This will be something to closely monitor. Another impact includes the Titans prep time. If the game is played on Monday or Tuesday, that puts the Titans in a short week as they prepare for the week 5 match-up against the Bills.

If the game is postponed to a further date like week 7 or 8, then the Titans now have an extra week to prepare for the Bills. A lot of ways this can impact our Bills.

Thanks for reading everyone!

As always,

Go Bills!