But players, coaches and team officials have been quickly reminded – with the preseason now underway – that the coronavirus is not quite as absent or unimportant as everyone wants, and that it remains possible that a team could suddenly be without its quarterback, its head coach or other key personnel for a game when the regular season begins next month.
The latest reminder came Friday when the Minnesota Vikings announced quarterback Kirk Cousins had tested positive for the virus. Cousins will miss the Vikings’ preseason opener Sunday in Las Vegas against the Raiders and is eligible to rejoin the team next week after a five-day isolation period.
Coach Kevin O’Connell announces that Kirk Cousins has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss Sunday’s game.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) 12 August 2022
“We’re not going to see covid go away,” Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said in a phone interview Thursday. “We’ve talked all the time about trying to learn to coexist with it, and to treat it with the respect and seriousness it deserves, but also to understand how we can operate.”
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll missed time during his team’s training camp earlier this month after testing positive for the virus. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray also missed time during camp after testing positive for the coronavirus.
“I feel good,” Carroll said, wearing a mask, as he spoke at a press conference upon his return to Seahawks’ camp. “I’ve never felt really bad. I just had a couple of symptoms that knocked it off and off we went. So we’ve really had to be aware and respect everybody else. … We’ve had a lot of experience and a lot of background with this. So we feel like we did really well.”
Houston Texans quarterback Kyle Allen will reportedly miss a preseason game Saturday because of a positive test. The Vikings confirmed Cousins’ positive test result Friday after saying Thursday he would been sent home because of a then unspecified illness.
The NFL, working mostly with the NFL Players Association, implemented strict protocols — including extensive testing, strict mask-wearing requirements and the use of electronic tracking devices to help with contact tracing — to play full seasons in 2020 and 2021. Some games were postponed, but none were completely cancelled. Teams faced competitive disadvantages as a result of isolations from positive tests or quarantines based on contact tracing.
After a spike in cases at the end of last season attributed to the omicron variant, the league and the NFLPA gradually eased their testing requirements and return-to-play procedures, reasoning that it was time to find out how to live and function with a form of the virus that was more transmissible but did not cause serious illness in the NFL population.
The NFL and NFLPA agreed in March to suspend their protocols, which remain suspended, meaning there are no league-wide provisions for regular surveillance testing, masking requirements or contact tracing quarantines.
NFL suspends ‘all aspects’ of its coronavirus protocols
The teams have been told they are expected to remain in compliance with state and local health directives. Any player, coach or team employee with symptoms of covid-19 disease must be tested; any person who tests positive is subject to a five-day isolation.
“I think, as always, we’re monitoring these issues very carefully,” Sills said. “And I think we will continue to see covid cases throughout most — if not all — of our season, as we will in the general population. We always say that our players, coaches and staff, they is part of their community. So as communities deal with potential future waves of the disease, we can certainly see that happening as well. At the same time, I have tremendous confidence in our team’s medical staffs. They obviously have a few seasons of dealing with these issues and dealing with this disease. And so I think we know a lot more about it now than we have in previous seasons.”
The league’s coronavirus testing is currently primarily driven by individuals self-reporting symptoms, Sills acknowledged. Competitive pressures might discourage such self-reporting during the regular season. But Sills said the NFL will emphasize that keeping everyone within a team’s facility healthy is a collaborative effort.
“I think we’ve continued to emphasize, as we’ve done in the past, that each person has a responsibility to the rest of their teammates and colleagues to keep them safe,” Sills said, “and to to make sure if they have symptoms to speak up and get tested, and if they’re positive, of course to isolate themselves from the team.”
The NFL did not have league-wide test results for teams’ training camps compiled and available as of Thursday, Sills said.
“Obviously, we can’t predict the future,” Sills said. “This has proven to be a very unpredictable virus and it will certainly continue to change and evolve and new variants may appear. So we’ll just have to be vigilant and be ready to pivot and adjust and adapt as needed.”