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Union urges NFL to adopt daily COVID-19 testing for vaccinated players

There’s a decent chance that the COVID-19 pandemic will play more of a role during the 2021 NFL season than last year.

We’re seeing relaxed protocols from the league as it relates to fully vaccinated players with Week 1 of the campaign slated to get going Thursday evening.

It has already led to some COVID-related issues for teams. That includes star guard Zack Martin and the Dallas Cowboys with their opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mere days away. Despite being fully vaccinated, Martin tested positive for the virus and will miss the game.

NFLPA president JC Tretter of the Cleveland Browns touched on this recently. He’s now urging the NFL to go to daily testing for vaccinated players.

“Since the beginning of training camp, we have been testing our vaccinated players once every 14 days. It has been ineffective as we’ve had significantly more incidents of transmission inside the building this year than last year,” Tretter wrote in an op-ed on the union’s official website. “The NFLPA saw this coming months ago and has been advocating for a return to daily testing because it is more effective way to stop and prevent the spread of the coronavirus in our locker rooms. However, the NFL decided to move to weekly testing; and while that is a step in the right direction, it leaves us open to many of the same problems we’ve been facing.”

Tretter also pointed to an outbreak within the Tennessee Titans’ organization as a recent case study to prove his point.

“Recently, Tennessee finished up with 14 positives — and the team was 97% vaccinated at that time,” Tretter explains. “It’s not hard to realize how devastating that would be during a week of the regular season. Yet, incidents like this have flown under the radar because players missing training camp practices or preseason games isn’t big news. That will not be the case moving forward and a few teams are already without, or at risk of being without, key starters heading into this opening weekend.”

There’s a lot of different layers to this. The NFL has been pushing for players to get vaccinated. To an extent, it has worked. North of 90% of players around the league have gotten their shots. The issue here is breakthrough cases among the vaccinated.

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Breakthrough COVID-19 cases and the NFL

nfl covid-19 zack martin
Nov 1, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Dallas Cowboys offensive guard Zack Martin (70) prepares for the snap against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

It was just recently that the league changed its protocols for vaccinated players to get tested weekly rather than every 14 days. The primary reason for this has been the uptick in breakthrough cases around the league.

By switching to a daily testing schedule, like we’re seeing with unvaccinated players, the league could prevent an outbreak during the season. On the other hand, daily testing would obviously lead to more players missing action. Just imagine if someone like Tom Brady tested positive immediately ahead of Thursday’s seaosn opener against the Cowboys. It would be one heck of a way to start the season. That’s especially true if it’s a false-positive.

Looking at it through a broader lens, we already know that COVID-19 vaccines are not 100% foolproof. The idea is to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and death. That has been the case since the vaccine became readily available earlier in the year.

From the NFL’s perspective, they have made it clear getting vaccinated will help the season go on as planned. They have also indicated that teams will have to forfeit games if there’s a major outbreak among the non-vaccinated within their locker rooms. But what happens if there’s an outbreak of breakthrough cases?

This is the issue the league is facing immediately ahead of what promises to be a challenging 2021 NFL season.

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