NFL expects positive coronavirus cases among personnel as it presses forward with 2020 plans

Charles Robinson
NFL columnist

As NFL facilities across the United States began to open on Tuesday, the league sent a clear message as it prepares to reboot operations in the face of coronavirus fears.

Positive tests will be expected. And the NFL will have a plan to deal with it.

“We fully well expect that we will have positive cases that arise because we think that this disease will remain endemic in society,” said Jeff Miller, the league’s executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy.

“So it shouldn’t be a surprise that new positive cases arise. Our challenge is to identify them as quickly as possible and to prevent spread to too many other participants. We’re working very diligently on that, and we’ll have some detailed plans to share about that at a later time.”

Miller’s message indicates that, as of now, the NFL is preparing to press forward even in the case of new infections once the 2020 schedule gets underway in training camps. And the league will do so with testing measures and a yet-to-be-unveiled plan on how to deal with new coronavirus infections.

The NFL expects that new coronavirus infections will arise, and the league is “working very diligently” to come up with a course of action. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey, File)

NFL watching other leagues’ coronavirus plans

Miller said a task force is “working very diligently” to come up with a course of action. The NFL said on Tuesday that measures are expected to encompass virtually everyone involved with the league — from players, coaches, medical staff, support personnel and seemingly everyone who has a day-to-day hand in franchise operations.

“We’re trying to take a thoughtful, data-driven approach,” Miller said, “with an ongoing re-evaluation at every stage and to preserve our ability to be adaptable and to be flexible as knowledge expands and as we collect experience during these openings.”

That will apparently include a studious eye on other professional sports leagues — both domestically and abroad — that are expected to get underway before the NFL’s training camps open in the coming months. Miller said the NFL is working closely with a few leagues to learn and adapt policies as new information comes in, focusing on science and testing to guide the coming rollout and daily operations.

“How is the testing program going [in other leagues]?” Miller said. “What does the rate of new infection look like? How do we handle new infections and new exposures? What things can we learn about helping train and play safely that will translate to other aspects of play and other types of sports. …

“We’re all working together in this. This is not an issue of the NFL working in isolation. We’re working very much together with the other pro sports leagues in North America and around the world in this.”

The impact on summer training camps

None of this means the NFL is ready to deliver a defined timeline, of course. The league declined to put any hard dates on the expansion of future operations. As it stands, limited personnel and rehabbing players are being allowed back into league facilities that qualify for opening under state and local guidelines.

However, no coaches are allowed at league facilities until all 32 franchises have been given the green light by their local governments to resume work. Until that happens, it’s expected the NFL will continue its virtual offseason program into the normal late-June break.

That means July training camps could be the first chance for teams to come together physically — although that could also be hindered if some hardline states, such as California, continue to extend stay-at-home orders.

There also remains a significant hurdle for the league: grappling with the NFL players union, which will have to take part in any guidelines that impact its membership (or put it at risk). The union has been very conservative about any comments regarding player safety. But Cleveland Browns center and newly elected union president JC Tretter has indicated there will be an extended period before player workouts resume in facilities.

“I think it is still a ways out,” Tretter told reporters Tuesday. “Every place has not opened up quite yet. Obviously, the buildings are just starting to open up for non-football staff. I do not think we are there at this point.

“I think we continually just keep looking at what new information comes out. In the end, we just have to make good decisions and safe decisions. Again, this is constantly changing. That is what we continually see. Now, as new areas open up and more people leave quarantine, we will be able to see what is going on and we will get more data points for that.

“We have the — I guess what you could call an advantage of we still have time before our season is projected to start. A lot of the other leagues are trying to figure this out right now and trying to piece it together, and we still have time. I would not say we are at the point where we need to make an agreement. We are going to keep sitting back and making sure we make the right decisions for our players.”

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