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NFL COVID-19 protocols to be eased, allow for earlier return for positive players

Vincent Frank

NFL COVID-19 protocols have been the talk of the league over the past several weeks with the virus impacting competitive balance on the field.

We’ve now seen multiple teams have to go with their third or fourth-string quarterbacks in important games. That included the New Orleans Saints starting rookie mid-round pick Ian Book in what ended up being an ugly loss to the Miami Dolphins Monday night.

Now that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has changed its recommended quarantine period from 10 days to five, it looks like the NFL is ready to follow suit.

“NFL and NFLPA are getting close to adopting the new CDC guidelines that would reduce the quarantine time to five days from 10 days for all players, including those who are unvaccinated. Agreement could be done today, per sources,” ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Tuesday.

Earlier in the week, the federal government announced that it was shortening quarantine recommendation periods for asymptomatic individuals from 10 days to five.

“Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others,” the CDC announced on Monday. “The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.”

As for NFL COVID-19 protocols, it is interesting that unvaccinated players would also be included in the update. The league has continued to push for vaccinations, using its power to pretty much differentiate those who have received the shots from those who haven’t.

All of this comes amid a major spike in COVID-19 cases around the United States as Omicron takes over as the dominant variant. Based on the action the federal government has taken, it stands to reason that said variant brings much more milder symptoms than other iterations.

Related: Updated NFL Playoff and Super Bowl predictions

Impact of new NFL COVID-19 protocols

NFL COVID-19 protocols
Dec 5, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) completes a pass against the Houston Texans in the second half at NRG Stadium. Indianapolis Colts won 31 to 0 .Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

From a logical perspective, this is going to help teams that have been ravaged by the virus. Monday represented the single-day high with 106 new positive cases around the league. Teams contending for a playoff spot continue to be impacted in a big way.

  • New Orleans Saints: 21
  • Los Angeles Chargers: 15
  • Baltimore Ravens: 14
  • Indianapolis Colts: 13
  • Cleveland Browns: 10
  • Miami Dolphins: 8
  • Pittsburgh Steelers: 8
  • Buffalo Bills: 7
  • Kansas City Chiefs: 7
  • Tennessee Titans: 7
  • New England Patriots: 6
  • Cincinnati Bengals: 5
  • Dallas Cowboys: 5

Earlier on Tuesday, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and will likely miss Sunday’s huge game against the Las Vegas Raiders — a matchup with major AFC Playoff implications. He won’t be impacted by this change in NFL COVID-19 protocols.