Former Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill says it will be imperative for teams to focus on keeping players with COVID-19 out of their facilities this year even with all of the new regulations surrounding social distancing the NFL is instituting. Gill said teams have a hard enough time keeping other diseases like the flu from infecting swaths of the team in regular seasons.
“The only way this can work, to be honest with you, you have to head it off before a player with COVID comes in the facility,” Gill said via Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. “So it starts with testing.… Test 14 days prior to camp, and then theoretically, the player needs to self-quarantine from then until they come in, because you have that 14-day latency period, between when you might have it or not. And then you have to do the symptom check and you have to do the temperature check.
“So theoretically, if all that is in, and you prevent COVID from entering the building, then you can practice safely. But I think we’re fooling ourselves if we say, Well, if there’s someone who has COVID, we can keep other players safe on the field and in the locker room with these protocols. I don’t think that’s practical. Prevention is going to be everything.”
Gill also supports the idea of a 14-day injured reserve list for players who test positive for the virus in order to dissuade players from hiding symptoms for fear of losing their job.
“Is there potential for abuse and people using it for an ankle sprain? Sure,” Gill said. “But there should be a 14-day IR for this year, where if someone tests positive or has symptoms, they immediately get put on that 14-day IR. Because what’s going to happen, you’re gonna have players worried about losing their jobs who aren’t going to report symptoms. And they’re gonna say, ‘Well, if I tell them I’m sick, then the guys pushing me for my job will be here, so I’m not going to tell anyone.’
“If you tell them, ‘Look, your job is guaranteed for the next 14 days, we’re going to put you on ice right now, but we don’t have to cut you,’ that would be the single best way to have medical staffs, teams and players really be upfront. Protect the players, protect the team, protect the roster, that’s really something I feel pretty strongly about.”
The NFL announced Monday that they’ve advised teams that training camps are expected to begin as scheduled July 28 with rookies and selected players permitted to report earlier.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters last week that they are focused on getting “ready for games at our stadiums and to engage our fans both in stadiums and through our media partners.”
The NFL previously issued guidelines for protocols and procedures for players returning to team facilities. However, these guidelines still need to be agreed to by the NFLPA.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills explained that they’re developing proper protocols as the science continues to evolve regarding COVID-19.
Sills did say last week that they’re creating a “very ambitious testing program.” Although, he did admit that “testing alone will not be sufficient to keep everyone healthy. It’s vitally important to keep social distances and use masks when possible.”
As a number of states have experienced a rise in positive COVID-19 cases, the NFL Player’s Association recommended players curtail group workouts that had helped take the place of OTAs and minicamps while team facilities were closed. Those recommendations weren’t taken seriously by a number of groups and the NFLPA again issued a warning against players exposing themselves to additional risk before training camp.
“Those practices are not in the best interest of player safety,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said via Mackenzie Salmon of USA Today. “They’re not in the best interest of protecting our players heading into training camp. And I don’t think they are in the best interest of us getting through an entire season.”