In the aftermath of what was a chaotic week for the NFL, the league and the NFLPA issued a joint statement announcing changes to their COVID-19 policy. The announcement comes after the league had more than 100 players test positive for COVID-19 over the past week. The league-wide outbreak caused the NFL to postgame three of its Week 15 contests.
Under the new policy, fully vaccinated, asymptomatic players and staff members are no longer subject to weekly testing. The league will instead turn to targeted testing of symptomatic individuals. Unvaccinated individuals will still be subject to daily testing.
"The NFL and NFLPA have been engaged with our medical staff to address the emergence of the new Omicron variant and how to stop the spread to ensure we keep everyone safe and complete the remainder of the season responsibly, the joint statement read. "The intensive protocols implemented last week and the rescheduling of three games were designed to stop the transmission of the virus and play this week's games safety.
"After this weekend's games, we have agreed to put into place a new set of protocols, which will include a more targeted testing plan, more flexibility for players to attend meetings virtually and also a high-risk player opt-out for the remainder of the season."
The NFL imposed intensive COVID-19 protocols earlier this week that include mandatory mask wearing, social distancing, grab-and-go meal service in team cafeterias, virtual-only meetings, and restrictions for weight room use. The league also implemented player restrictions for activities outside of the facility.
Changes to COVID-19 protocols were also implemented this week that made it easier for vacationed players to return to play after testing positive for the virus.
Vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 can now return to the field if:
- They have two PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests that are either negative or have a CT (cycle threshold) of 35 or greater.
- One PCR test that is either negative or has a CT value of 35 or greater, and negative Mesa test taken without 24 hours of the PCR test.
- Two negative Mesa tests.
Prior NFL test analysis revealed that players with CT values at 35 or higher do not transmit COVID-19 and therefore are not contagious.
"It's not about loosening our standards," said NFL chief medical offer Dr. Allen Sills. "If anything, we're just bringing a higher degree of precision in measuring ourselves against a more precise ruler."