NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said playing the 2020 season kept players and the general public healthier, with a fractional positivity rate since testing began in August.
“We feel that our club facilities truly were some of the safest possible locations,” Sills said in a teleconference four days before Super Bowl LV is scheduled to kick off in Tampa, the conclusion of a tumultuous season played entirely during a pandemic.
The NFL positivity rate was .08 percent — 262 COVID-19 cases were among players and 463 positive tests were for team personnel.
There are currently no positive cases for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs have two players, reserve interior offensive lineman Daniel Kilgore and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, quarantined for close contact with a barber who tested positive for COVID-19.
“At this point, we feel like we’re in a good position with that. And we’ll just continue to monitor it,” Sills said.
ESPN reported at least 20 players and coaches were scheduled to visit the barber before the team learned of the positive test while Kilgore was in the middle of his haircut.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said even if those cases and others become positive tests, there is no fallback plan or alternative game date for the Super Bowl.
Sills said the NFL, which invested in daily testing and gene tracing of positive COVID-19 tests to find where the virus originated, did not uncover evidence of any player-to-player transmission during games. Most cases were traced to players gathering, sometimes without masks, away from the 32 team facilities in which strict COVID-19 protocols were in place and vehemently enforced.
Sills helped co-author a report with the CDC released last month. The CDC said the NFL plan was worth publication because it can be applied to the public.
“Implementation and evolution of mitigation measures, testing, and contact tracing in the National Football League, August 9-November 21, 2020” was made public on Jan. 25.
“The paper is a summary of our testing experience — what we learned from testing everyone throughout our entire season on a daily basis, but also what we learned from our contact-tracing process,” Sills said. “Through our daily investigations of positive tests, we began to have a much better understanding of when transmission of the virus could occur, and, most importantly, what steps could be taken to prevent transmission and keep everyone as safe as possible.”
Most NFL games were played with limited attendance. The Super Bowl is expecting an audience of around 25,000 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday night.
Sills said masks and social distancing remain part of the plan for fans, who will not occupy much of the lower bowl, which is covered and reserved for digital advertising.
–Field Level Media