The NFL has its first team COVID-19 outbreak. At least nine members of the Tennessee Titans have produced positive test results confirmed in the past four days, a wave of coronavirus infections that could potentially have spread during Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at the U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Titans have closed their training facilities until at least Saturday, while the Vikings have closed theirs until they have further test results. Both teams’ week 4 match decisions are pending.
Here’s what we know at the moment, with appropriate context. We will continue to update as the news develops.
Timing for returning to the facility
Could the games be postponed?
So this started with the Titans?
Yes. On Saturday, Titans linebacker manager Shane Bowen returned a confirmed positive test. The Titans received the results before leaving Nashville for Minneapolis and Bowen was held back from making the trip.
Were the other eight employees of the Titans infected with Bowen?
We do not know. What we do know is that the entire traveling group of the Titans was tested on Saturday, as it normally would be. The Titans had those results by Sunday morning. All of them were negative, which meant every coach, player and staff member was eligible for Sunday’s match.
The Titans stayed Saturday night at the JW Marriott, adjacent to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, according to ESPN’s Courtney Cronin. League protocol requires all members of the traveling group to have their own rooms and prohibits them from “gathering, visiting or socializing with individuals outside the traveling group once they arrive in the city of play”.
On Sunday they defeated the Vikings won, 31-30. The team returned home after the game ended.
So no one was tested on Sunday?
Correct. The protocols require daily testing every day except match day. Neither the league nor the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have explicitly explained why, but timing is likely a substantial part of the answer. The results of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, performed on the morning of a game with a nasal swab, probably wouldn’t have been returned in time for kick-off.
Point of care (POC) tests have faster results: PCR tests are usually returned overnight, while POC tests can be returned on the same day and even before kickoff after a morning test, but they are not. accurate. At this time, POC tests are only used to confirm initial positive tests and the NFL still doesn’t trust them on their own. And the NFL probably didn’t want to sideline a player or manager based on a POC test alone.
When were they tested next?
All Titans and Vikings Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees, including players and coaches, were tested on Monday morning. Of the eight Titans who returned confirmed positive tests, three were gamers and five employees. They have not been identified. None showed any symptoms, according to ESPN’s Dan Graziano. No member of the Vikings returned positive tests.
What about the officials who worked on the Titans-Vikings match on Sunday?
Most officials go home on the night of the game or the next morning. According to their protocol, they are tested twice a week: once in their cities and once the day before matches. Referee Clete Blakeman’s crew worked on this game and it’s not immediately known if any of them got hit.
Does this mean that the epidemic is contained?
No. The general guidance from public health officials suggests that it can take up to 5-7 days for an infection to be registered in a test. That’s why the Titans plant is closed at least until Saturday. The NFL / NFLPA protocol requires increased monitoring for eight days for anyone who has had close contact with someone who has returned a confirmed positive test.
How do they bring about close contact?
Protocols follow CDC guidelines: within 6 feet of distance for at least 15 minutes from an infected individual. The league identified 48 close contacts to monitor, based on the contact tracing of the eight confirmed positive individuals, according to Graziano. It is unclear whether these are all members of the Titans or if some are members of the Vikings.
This includes contact during a match, as well as data recorded by mandatory proximity devices worn by all team employees before and after the match. According to the protocol, “Level 1, Level 2, Level 2M and Level 3 individuals will also be required to wear Kinexon proximity monitoring devices at all times during team activities (including in the club facility, during training and during team trips). “
Dianna Russini explains the possible origin of the Titans coronavirus outbreak and why she doesn’t expect Tennessee to play the week 4 game against Pittsburgh.
So the virus found the only hole in the protocol?
If the Titans passed the infection on to the Vikings, then yes. Games are the only point of the NFL week where social distancing is impossible and the time when an infected person is very likely to breathe on others. This is one of the reasons the NFL insisted that coaches and other non-players wear masks on the sidelines.
The absence of game testing also increases the risk. A POC test on Sunday morning may have captured at least some of the positive results the Titans eventually recorded on Monday.
Right. But the NFL protocols seemed to work.
They were. As of Tuesday morning, there were only four players on the NFL’s COVID-19 roster. Only seven players and 29 other non-players had returned positive results during the four test periods from 12 August to 19 September.
But as Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University’s Oxford College said earlier this month, “An epidemic can really happen at any time.” It is fair to ask whether this will require a move to game day tests.
When can the Vikings and Titans return to their training facilities?
We know the Titans won’t be back until Saturday at the earliest. The return of the Vikings depends on them receiving confirmed positive results.
How long will infected players and staff members be kept away from the team?
It’s complicated. Here is a flow chart for symptomatic and asymptomatic positive tests.
This chart from the NFL protocols explains much of what the Titans and Vikings are doing. pic.twitter.com/Z3JLQy43GZ
– Kevin Seifert (@SeifertESPN) 29 September 2020
What about their fourth week games?
Both are currently still scheduled to play on Sunday. However, that could change in the hours and days to come. The Titans game Sunday in Nashville against the Pittsburgh Steelers could easily be moved to week 7, if the NFL moves the Steelers’ week 7 game against the Baltimore Ravens to week 8, when they both have byes. A potential rescheduling of the Vikings game at the Houston Texans is less obvious.
The NFL has formed an independent committee made up of former unaffiliated league officials to advise Commissioner Roger Goodell on fairness and fairness in these situations. An immediate question is whether it is right for the Titans to play the Steelers on Sunday if they have been away from their squad structure and therefore unable to train all week.