NFL Implementing 'Targeted' COVID-19 Testing Plan for Vaccinated Players

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist IVDecember 18, 2021

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - DECEMBER 05: The NFL logo is pictured ahead of the game between the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on December 05, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to changes to the league's COVID-19 protocols that will alter the testing procedures for vaccinated players.

"After this weekend's games, we have agreed to put into place a new set of protocols, which will include a more targeted testing plan, more flexibility for players to attend meetings virtually and also a high-risk player opt-out for the remainder of the season," the NFL said.

NFL345 @NFL345

Joint <a href="https://twitter.com/NFL?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFL</a>-<a href="https://twitter.com/NFLPA?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@NFLPA</a> Statement on COVID-19 Protocols: <a href="https://t.co/GKua3mXJry">https://t.co/GKua3mXJry</a> <a href="https://t.co/YE7fsL7zLO">pic.twitter.com/YE7fsL7zLO</a>

The Washington Post's Mark Maske first reported the NFL and NFLPA were discussing a plan to test vaccinated players less regularly and largely when they're asymptomatic. According to a memo shared by Albert Breer of The MMQB, the new rules will apply to tier 1 and 2 members of an organization:

Albert Breer @AlbertBreer

Staffs across the NFL are now getting this message. Changes in testing protocol expected to go into effect tomorrow.<br><br>“All tier 1 and tier 2 staff do not need to undergo COVID-19 testing, unless you are currently experiencing symptoms.” <a href="https://t.co/uTR8i58aBg">pic.twitter.com/uTR8i58aBg</a>

Ben Volin @BenVolin

NFL protocols now:<br><br>* “Targeted” testing for fully vaccinated players and staff<br><br>* Daily testing for everyone else<br><br>* Mandatory masks<br><br>* Virtual or masked meetings<br><br>* No bars, clubs, with more than 10 people. No visitors on road<br><br>Less testing, but more mitigation strategies

ESPN's Dan Graziano provided the context behind Saturday's announcement:

"The NFLPA has been under pressure in recent weeks from players who are upset because they feel they were effectively forced to get vaccinated (due to the far stricter rules that apply this year to unvaccinated individuals) and as a result of the proliferation of COVID variants are now testing positive and missing games anyway. This has led to player dissatisfaction with other of the league's COVID-19 mitigation strategies, such as mask wearing and physical distancing in team facilities. The hope is that adjusting the testing procedures to make them more targeted and strategic will address some of those concerns."

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is causing another worldwide surge of positive cases and impacting major sports leagues in the United States.

The NFL postponed three games this week, moving one to Monday and two to Tuesday. The NBA has seen a number of players enter its health and safety protocols as well, and multiple college basketball games have been postponed or canceled outright.

On Wednesday, the NFLPA voiced its concern with the situation by reciting a point made by Cleveland Browns center and union president J.C. Tretter. Tretter advocated in September for rigorous daily testing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19:


The NFL decided to take away a critical weapon in our fight against the transmission of COVID-19 despite our union's call for daily testing months ago. We're talking to our player leadership &amp; to the NFL about potential changes to the protocols so that we can complete the season. <a href="https://t.co/r14HqZ2iMC">pic.twitter.com/r14HqZ2iMC</a>

Graziano reported Thursday the NFL and NFLPA agreed to modifications to the protocols, one of which accelerated the timeline for vaccinated players to return after testing positive. 

Team personnel are also subject to mask and social distancing requirements at team facilities and have to hold virtual rather than in-person meetings.