After a rash of COVID-related absences have plagued the league this year, and following numerous complaints from teams about the league's current testing policy, the NFL adopted new testing protocols last week, and did so for an eye-opening reason: asymptomatic players were not found to be transmitting the virus.
According to an ESPN report, which notes that the NFL's stance is a "departure from the stance of public health authorities for much of the pandemic," the NFL's chief medical officer Dr. Allan Sills said, "We've really not seen this phenomenon that people have discussed, which is asymptomatic people in the facility spreading virus to others. s we've gone back and looked throughout the entire season, what we've seen consistently is that when people have symptoms, that's when they seem to be contagious to others. And that's why we're asking people to come forward and acknowledge symptoms because that's the point at which they're vulnerable and the point at which they expose themselves to others."
Sills was explaining the reasoning for a new policy under which the NFL has stopped weekly testing of all vaccinated players, and has allowed asymptomatic players who have tested positive to return to action sooner, if they are vaccinated.
"Our data has been consistent of that throughout the season, and I think it's particularly true of this new variant, with omicron, of what we're seeing. It's all about symptom recognition and prompt testing," Sills continued.
As the playoff season approaches for the NFL, a number of teams in the thick of the playoff race have been decimated by COVID-related absences and have had to play crucial games with large numbers of key players absent. Last week, two games were delayed after COVID protocols caused dozens of absences among the Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams. The Browns ultimately lost a crucial game against Vegas with many of their most important players, including their top two quarterbacks, absent from the roster.
This week, the struggles have continued, as the Browns' division rival and fellow playoff contenders the Baltimore Ravens reportedly only had 13 defensive players eligible to enter their practice facility on Wednesday. Likewise, the New Orleans Saints, who are also contending for a playoff spot, are preparing to start a largely-unheard of rookie this week after their second and third string quarterbacks both went on the COVID-reserve list, while starting quarterback Jameis Winston continues to recover from a season-ending injury.