NFL navigates through coronavirus pandemic to reach Super Bowl LV

The Big Game

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – In a season unlike any other during a global pandemic, the NFL is nearing the finish line on time with Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium this Sunday.

The NFL had access to more resources, technology and daily COVID-19 testing than most, but the league’s chief medical officer says what they learned this season can help everyone in the fight against the virus.

The NFL never had playoff hub cities like the NHL nor a “bubble” like the NBA set up in Disney to resume its 2020 season.

Still, the NFL’s COVID-19 game plan impressed USF public health professor Dr. Jay Wolfson.

“Teams really can work together not just to win the game,” he said, “but to preserve the integrity of their own health.”

Thirty two teams in 24 states navigating a 16 game regular season became a case study on how to contain coronavirus outbreaks.

“We feel that our club facilities truly were some of the safest possible locations in those communities,” NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said.

Sills told 8 On Your Side it took more than daily testing, contact tracing and isolating players, staff and personnel to prevent virus transmission in this contact sports.

“Did mask wearing at the 32 teams’ facilities help contain the spread of the virus?” 8 On Your Side asked Dr. Sills.

“Unequivocally yes,” he said, “masks work and they are probably the most important risk mitigation strategy.”

The CDC and NFL published a report last week on how the league’s data helped create a new definition for “high risk close contact.”

“After the team outbreak in September, we recognized that simply saying six feet of distance and fifteen minutes of cumulative contact was not going to be adequate,” Dr. Sills explained. “We were gonna see transmission that did not meet those standards.”

Midway through the season, the NFL adopted a more intensive league wide covid-19 protocol that included no group meals, virtual meetings only, increased physical distancing and mandatory mask wearing at all times, even for players during practice.

“Clearly that implementation allowed us to see our cases go down and our close contacts do down at a time when the numbers in the country were trending in the opposite direction,” Dr. Sills said during Wednesday’s Health and Safety news conference.

NFL officials say it is not time for a victory lap until a Super Bowl LV Champion is crowned Sunday night.

Throughout the season, the NFL has conducted nearly 1 million coronavirus tests.

Dr. Sills said the NFL had a 0.08 positivity rate. 262 players and 463 personnel tested positive during the season.

Both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs reported zero positive tests on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

“We have to get through (the pandemic) the same way the NFL got through the season without shutting it down,” Dr. Wolfson said.

The CDC and NFL report ends with this conclusion:

“In the NFL, COVID-19 transmission was identified in persons with <15 minutes of consecutive or cumulative interaction and was reduced through implementation of an intensive protocol focused on environmental change, increased personal protection, avoidance of high-risk interactions such as vehicle sharing, eating in the same room or common areas, and expansion of the components of contact tracing to incorporate high-risk contact designations. Although the protocols implemented by the NFL were resource-intensive, strategies such as accounting for the specific characteristics of the close contact, in addition to time and duration, and creation of an intensive protocol are applicable to other settings, including essential workplaces, long-term care facilities, and schools.”

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