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KRYK: Why NFL ‘close contacts’ don’t quarantine for two weeks

Why weren’t a slew of Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots players ordered to quarantine for two weeks and parked on the NFL’s COVID-19/reserve list?

And for that matter, some Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders players, too?

That is, NFL players who came in close contact with a teammate, or teammates, infected with the coronavirus over the past week or two?

Here’s why.

By now you may have heard or read that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Public Health Agency of Canada too, defines a coronavirus “close contact,” primarily, as an individual who came “within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes,” regardless of whether the undistanced parties wore masks.

Both agencies recommend that all such “close contacts” should self-quarantine for 14 days following their last exposure to the infected. School boards across North America, for example, are mandating this for classmates and teachers of the infected. Ditto, work places of every variety.

But not the NFL.

And the reason is obvious, if not trumpeted: The league could not possibly get a season in if every close contact of an infected player had to quarantine thereafter for 14 days. To do so might wipe out, say, a team’s entire quarterback depth chart for two weeks. Or the starting secondary. Even a huge chunk of the team.

It’s clear that NFL players cannot always be socially distant from similarly masked teammates and other team members within team facilities, or on road trips. The Patriots all but confirmed as much last Saturday, after reports named starting quarterback Cam Newton as the Patriots player who had become infected (teams are forbidden from identifying positive cases). The club tweeted that “several additional players, coaches and staff” had been “in close contact” with the player, Newton.

What’s more, reports this past Monday said the Patriots were flying 20 players separately to Kansas City for that night’s game against the Chiefs, because they were suspected close contacts of Newton’s.

Twenty players? The NFL could not hope to play a season — at least a fair one — without foregoing automatic two-week quarantines for close contacts.

Now, before some of you get your “I HATE THE NFL” shorts in a knot, know that the league, on the other hand, has gone far beyond what the CDC recommends to gauge the health of the potentially infected, and which no school board and few businesses could possibly afford, or logistically administer.

That is, the NFL is conducting COVID-19 tests six days a week (every day but game days) on all players and staffers permitted inside each of the 32 clubs’ respective workplace, ‘bubbled’ environments. Since late July, teams en masse have administered hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests, including on some 2,200 players since the start of the regular season Sept. 10.

The most recently updated version of the joint NFL-NFLPA treatment response protocol — a mere section within the 76-page COVID-19 protocols bible for the 2020 season — spells out in minute detail the steps clubs “must take” to “minimize potential transmission to others” when someone exhibits coronavirus symptoms.

If the close-contact player at the outset is asymptomatic, he “shall immediately be isolated away from others, and receive a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test (or such other test required by the parties) as soon as practicable. Such individual must continue to isolate … until the results of the test are obtained, and are negative.”

Upon testing negative, even within minutes or hours of discovery of the infected person’s first positive test, the close contact “will be permitted to continue to attend the club facility and participate in activities,” as normal, with four conditions.

Namely: (1) he must be tested daily, post-exposure, on Days 1-8, and thereafter in accordance with the regular testing schedule; (2) he must complete a daily health questionnaire for COVID-19 symptoms; (3) he must submit to a minimum of three daily temperature checks; and (4) a record must be kept of his daily testing and screening results.

NFL and NFLPA leaders surely concluded, after months of talks in spring and summer, that eschewing mandatory, post-contact quarantines was necessary to have any realistic hope of playing a season during the pandemic. Like it or not, it seems unavoidable.

But by not quarantining every close contact, there’s a chance, of course, one could still become infected (as the coronavirus incubates for anywhere from 4-14 days) and, thus, further spread COVID-19 within the team. Perhaps this is even a reason so many Titans players (a dozen) have tested positive in drips and drabs since Sept. 29. We may never know.

Now, to the COVID-19/reserve question.

By NFL-NFLPA edict, clubs must “immediately” park a player onto this list who “either tests positive for COVID-19, or who has been quarantined after having been in close contact with an infected person or persons.”

Yet, understandably, this has not been happening with close contacts since the start of the regular season.

Point-of-care (POC) COVID-19 tests, whose results are revealed within minutes, are now being conducted across the league on close contacts — within hours of an early-morning discovery of an infection, such as on the Patriots last Saturday, per the club’s tweet.

Thus, clubs are learning long before each day’s afternoon roster-moves deadline whether anyone besides the initially infected player has contracted the virus too, and thus whether anyone besides the infected player is to be isolated past a few hours — under NFL-NFLPA quarantining criteria, outlined above.

As a result, we can expect that only the infected will wind up on the COVID-19/reserve list.

JoKryk@postmedia.com

@JohnKryk

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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