Dec 26, 2021; Arlington, Texas, USA; Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Micah Parsons (11) rushes against Washington Football Team offensive tackle Sam Cosmi (76) in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Allen Sills: NFL bracing for COVID surge as playoffs begin

There’s one wildcard the NFL expects to crash the playoffs: COVID-19.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said on Thursday that overseas patters of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus indicate the NFL should brace for high numbers the next “2-3 weeks.”

“When we start talking about projecting where we’re going to be, I like to quote that great medical scientist Yogi Berra, who says it’s really difficult to make projections, especially about the future,” Sills said in an NFL Network interview. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that COVID can take us a lot of different directions. If this follows the trend we’ve seen in other countries, we do expect there will be a rapid decline with Omicron.

“I would see us being in the thick of this the next 2-3 weeks. Then hopefully seeing declining cases as we get later in our playoffs. We’ve been wrong about where this thing goes before.”

Several prominent players were among the lot added to the COVID/reserve list this week, including front-and-center starters for playoff teams such as Bengals running back Joe Mixon, Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith and Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons.

Parsons is officially out for Sunday’s game and won’t travel to Philadelphia with the team.

Protocol for COVID-19 testing and return to play shifted along with CDC guidelines shortening quarantine periods from 10 days to five days.

For playoff teams, that makes next Tuesday and Wednesday critical for testing, although asymptomatic, vaccinated players can be cleared before the five-day quarantine window.

An unvaccinated player testing positive next Tuesday would not be cleared to return for a Saturday wild-card game. The same is true of Wednesday testing for players scheduled to play wildcard Sunday.

Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday the team is opening hotel rooms at the team headquarters, The Star, for players planning to create a “bubble” environment for the playoffs.

–Field Level Media

Oct 11, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Masked Kansas City Chiefs fans show their support during the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Dr. Allen Sills: Playing 2020 season kept NFL players, public healthy

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