Lions' preparation for camp in pandemic includes education, technology, 'robust' testing
For more than half-hour Wednesday morning, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn laid out, in impressive detail, the team's preparations for players returning to the facility for the start of training camp during the ongoing pandemic.
During the past three months, the Lions have been making adjustments around the facility, starting with the formation of an internal committee in May. From the medical side, the team's infectious response team is led by Matt Barnes, an assistant athletic trainer who also works for the Henry Ford Health System.
Among the key changes are upgraded air filtration and open-air refrigeration systems, an app which allows players to order pre-packaged dining options, Plexiglas dividers in the locker room and shuffled meeting rooms to accommodate for necessary social distancing.
But as Major League Baseball is learning with an outbreak of more than a dozen cases in the Miami Marlins organization this week, even the best-laid plans are at the mercy of COVID-19.
“The MLB thing, I’m aware of it, obviously, and that’s concerning, for sure," Quinn said during a video conference call. "I think our testing is a very robust testing program. I think you guys would agree with that. So, am I concerned? Obviously. This is a big unknown, but we’ll do the best we can and we feel like, at least for the Lions, we have a good plan in place for the facility to keep everybody safe and it goes back to education, it goes back to making mature decisions when you’re away from the facility and making safe and healthy decisions.”
The NFL's plan includes two negative tests over a 72-hour period before a player or staff member can enter a team facility. Lions players had their first tests Tuesday and will be tested again Friday.
After gaining entrance to the facility, employees will be tested daily for the next two weeks. That will be reduced to every other day as long as the team's positive test rate remains under 5% for the duration of that 14 days, returning to daily if it climbs above that threshold at any point.
MLB's operation manual called for an initial negative test, twice-daily temperature checks and diagnostic testing every other day throughout the the season and postseason for Tier 1 employees. That group covers all players, coaches and medical personnel.
That's not exactly light testing, and it did little to prevent the virus running through the Marlins organization, infecting 17 players and staffers so far, and postponing at least a week's worth of the team's games.
Meanwhile, both the NBA and NHL are preparing to relaunch their seasons this week after attempting to quarantine their players in a bubble to limit exposure. That's a luxury the NFL doesn't have, which means players and staff members are going to be counted on to make responsible decisions when away from the team, according to Quinn.
"We can't protect from the virus if we're just testing," Quinn said. "It's about education, No. 1, it is about PPE (personal protective equipment), and it's about contact tracing. All those things are just as important as the testing."
Focusing on education, the team has been conducting small group video conferences, not just to teach best practices, but to open it up for any questions. The Lions also have extended these sessions to the families of players.
"We kind of broke that up and did a little bit more than what was required because we felt that we'd be better in smaller groups, so people would have the opportunity to have questions," Quinn said. "You guys know on Zooms, some people are uncomfortable asking questions, so we wanted to make smaller group for the educational sessions, so people would feel comfortable."
Additionally, the league is utilizing technology to help with contact tracing. During the call, Quinn showed his wrist band, one of three options team personnel will have the option of wearing. The microchipped devices will track proximity and the duration of close contact between people wearing the sensors, alerting individuals both visually and audibly in real time, while logging the data for team and league use.
The contact tracing also will be utilized by the league to determine which players will need to be quarantined in the case of a positive virus tests.
"If someone tests positive, they go back to the contact tracing data and they see how long those people have been near each other, and it’s really decided for us," Quinn said. "I think that’s why the league went with the KINEXON, because it’s going to give you very real data. It’s not going to be club by club deciding who might have to sit out or who has to quarantine. It’s going to be very black and white. It’s going to be in the data."