Both the NFL and NBA are reconsidering their COVID protocols as the virus continues to rapidly spread throughout the professional leagues.
After extensive discussion, the NFL and the NFL Players Association have reportedly reached an agreement to revamp testing thresholds and get players back on the field more quickly.
The new protocols will be implemented next week, and the league has put all franchises into enhanced COVID protocols until then. That means teams will have to abide by the more stringent guidelines that were put in place last year, including no in-person meetings, 100 percent masking, no eating in groups inside the facility, among other precautions.
The new measures come after 116 NFL players tested positive since Monday, with the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams being hit particularly hard.
The NFL released the following statement Thursday:
“Throughout the pandemic we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff. The changes we are making today aim to address the increase in cases and the advent of the Omicron variant. Effective immediately, all clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel. We will continue to strongly encourage booster shots as the most effective protection. Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19. All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community.”
According to Yahoo Sports, once teams have cleared the enhanced protocols through the end of Week 15, the changes to COVID testing protocols will kick in. The biggest alteration is NFL players who test positive for COVID can now get back into their team facilities as quickly as one day later if they meet this standard: If a player has been previously vaccinated and is asymptomatic for a period of 24 hours, they need only one negative test and one negative rapid-result swab to return to team activities. Under this new guideline, players can also begin re-testing immediately following the 24-hour asymptomatic period. Previously, vaccinated players who tested positive for COVID could begin retesting only after a five-day period and required two negative test results.
The NFL will also look at the players’ viral load should they test positive. Players with a technically positive test can also return to the facility depending on how low their viral load is — which is measured by a “cycle threshold” or “CT” value. If a player’s CT value is 35 or higher, they could register as COVID positive but not be considered infectious. With that in mind, the league and union agreed on a threshold that will allow players to return to the team with CT values of 35 or higher on tests.
The NBA and its players association have also reportedly agreed to new protocols.
SI.com, which obtained an internal memo, confirmed that the there will be an increase in daily testing and face masks for players and staff members, starting on Dec. 26. The staff and players will be tested on game days with the exceptions of those who recently had COVID-19 or received their booster shot 14-days prior.
They will also be required to wear masks on the benches and while traveling with the team.
The NBA’s new guidelines come amid increased infections across the league. In December, 52 players have tested positive, and 22 players entered protocols between Wednesday and Thursday of this week.