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NFL alters COVID-19 protocols amid leaguewide outbreaks

All NFL teams will remain in the intensive COVID-19 protocols until the conclusion of Week 15. File Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI
All NFL teams will remain in the intensive COVID-19 protocols until the conclusion of Week 15. File Photo by Jon SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- The NFL and its players' union have negotiated changes to the league's COVID-19 protocols as multiple teams continue to deal with outbreaks.

In a memo released Thursday, the league said it has updated its protocols to "address the increase in cases and the advent of the Omicron variant," with some of those changes being put in place immediately to provide relief for teams whose rosters have been decimated this week.

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"Effective immediately, all clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel," the NFL said. "We will continue to strongly encourage the booster shots as the most effective protection.

"Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19. All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community."

All teams will remain in the intensive COVID-19 protocols until the conclusion of Week 15. Clubs that are already in those protocols due to ongoing outbreaks will continue daily testing of all players and staff -- regardless of vaccination status -- but the remainder of the teams won't be subjected to daily testing.

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Meanwhile, the adjustment of the return-to-play COVID-19 protocols will make it easier for players who are vaccinated and asymptomatic to return to the field.

Under the league's previous protocols, a vaccinated player who tested positive for the coronavirus had to produce two negative tests 24 hours apart before being cleared to compete. The new protocol relaxes that requirement and could allow teams like the Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns and Washington Football Team to get players back this weekend.

There is no change to the protocols for unvaccinated players, who will continue to undergo daily testing and must remain away from the team facility for a minimum of 10 days after a positive test result.

The NFL Players Association also is pushing to allow players the chance to opt out of this season if they are uncomfortable with the updates to the protocols, though it remains unclear whether the league will agree to that.

As of Thursday, the NFL and the union have no plans to mandate COVID-19 booster shots for vaccinated players. The league and the NFLPA, however, continue to strongly encourage unvaccinated players to get vaccinated and vaccinated players to receive the boosters.

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On Wednesday, the Browns announced that head coach Kevin Stefanski tested positive for COVID-19. In total, the Browns have placed at least eight starters, including quarterback Baker Mayfield, on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week.

The Rams have put at least 13 players on the COVID-19 list in the past week, including All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and starting running back Darrell Henderson Jr.

Washington has added 17 players to the COVID-19 list this week, bringing its team total to 21 -- including 11 starters.

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