The NFL has announced in a memo last week that COVID–19 protocols are suspended for the upcoming season. After two years of restrictions, NFL operations are returning to normal, effective immediately.
NFL Network reporter, Tom Pelissero, made a copy of the NFL’s memo available to the public in a tweet on Thursday, March 3.
Lifting long-standing NFL COVID-19 restrictions
The NFL has followed guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. December saw a relaxation in protocols, while still in compliance with CDC recommendations.
December’s updated COVID protocols include:
- Allowing meetings outdoors “or in a practice bubble while practicing social distancing”
- Mandating mask-wearing while indoors
- Instituting 15-person maximum capacity in weight rooms
- Prohibiting individuals from eating together
- Shortening the isolation period after a positive test from 10 days to 5 days for asymptomatic individuals
- Requiring the team doctor to clear individuals before ending isolation
- Requiring masks for 5 days after the isolation period
With last week’s announcement, however, the NFL is dropping even these updated guidelines.
Most notably, the League will not perform mandatory surveillance testing for players or NFL staff moving forward. Masks are also no longer required in team facilities, even if individuals are not vaccinated.
“Based on current encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity of COVID-19, the evolving guidance from the CDC, changes to state law, and the counsel of our respective experts,” the NFL’s memo read. “The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to suspend all aspects of the joint COVID-19 Protocols.”
The NFL states, however, that they have expectations of players and staff to self–monitor daily for COVID–19 symptoms. This requires that individuals be symptom-free prior to entering NFL facilities.
Should an individual display COVID-19 symptoms, they are required to report symptoms to the team and be tested.
A negative test result must be proven before symptomatic individuals will be admitted to NFL facilities. Any individual with a positive test is required to isolate for five days after testing.
According to recent reports, full vaccination status applies to almost 95% of players in the NFL, and close to 100% of staff.
Players and staff still subject to local laws
While the NFL and NFLPA are lifting restrictions, that’s not the end of them entirely. The League says players and staff must still follow any local laws related to COVID-19 restrictions.
Teams are also free to “continue reasonable measures to protect their staff and players.” This means that individual teams are still permitted to put restrictions in place for both staff and players.
Protocols depend on changes in COVID situation
The lifting of restrictions by the NFL is certainly a light at the end of the dark pandemic tunnel. However, the League is still keeping a close eye on COVID-19 numbers and trends.
If the volatile situation changes at any point, restrictions could easily return to the NFL.
“Should there be a reason to reimpose aspects of the Protocols or to take other measures,” the memo said, “we will work closely with clubs, the NFLPA and our respective experts, and local, state, and federal public health officials to continue to safeguard the health of the NFL community.”
The NFL said in the announcement that their primary concern is still the “health and safety of players, coaches, and staff.”
COVID-19 impact on 2020 and 2021 NFL seasons
After two seasons of pandemic restrictions and concerns, it’s a relief to many, both inside and outside of the NFL, to see restrictions lifted.
The stress and concern the pandemic has had on the League has been continuous, but restrictions have helped prevent further damages.
The 2020 and 2021 NFL seasons saw no game cancellations. However, many games were moved during the 2020 schedule.
Are other sports organizations lifting COVID-19 restrictions?
The NFL’s announcement brings expectations that other sports will follow suit and begin lifting their own COVID protocols.
Current stances from MLB, NBA, and NHL are as follows:
- The NHL has already suspended mandatory testing for asymptomatic individuals. They’ve also dropped some protocols regarding social distancing.
- The NBA has not yet dropped any COVID restrictions. In fact, Phoenix Suns player Devin Booker and Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash are currently on restrictions due to COVID.
- MLB has not altered protocols as of yet, likely due to there being a player lockout and no collective bargaining agreement reached.
Should COVID-19 cases continue to drop and vaccinations continue to climb, the CDC may continue to relax its guidance. The NFL’s announcement regarding lifted pandemic restrictions could be the first glimpse of a return to normal in the sports world.