NFL adjusting COVID protocols, including loosening return-to-play requirements

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — As COVID cases have spiked around the NFL this week, the league adjusted its COVID protocols on Thursday, including its return-to-participation requirements for staffers and players who have tested positive for the virus. 

To slow the recent virus spread that has impacted several teams, the league reverted back to some previous rules from last year. That includes the elimination of in-person meetings while indoors, requiring masks within the practice facility for all individuals, including those who are vaccinated, and the discontinuing of communal dining and outside guests during team travel. 

Lions cornerback Amani Oruwariye favors following science in dealing with COVID.

The lone exceptions for in-person meetings and required masks are when the team is practicing outdoors or within their indoor practice bubbles.  

Notable in addition to the ramped-up restrictions is the loosening of the requirements for players and staff members to return to work following a positive test. 

More: Lions' T.J. Hockenson reportedly done for year following thumb surgery

Currently, the league conducts molecular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to detect the virus. The test uses chemicals and enzymes in a machine called a thermal cycler. Each heating and cooling cycle amplifies the amount of the targeted genetic material in the test sample. The number of cycles  required to detect the virus (CT value) helps determine the amount of viral genetic material in a positive-testing individual. 

For most PCR tests, the cutoff for a negative test is 40 CT.  According to a memo sent to the league's 32 teams, a player who tests positive, but is asymptomatic and has a CT level of 35 or greater 24 hours after their initial positive test, will be eligible to return to the building. 

Consensus medical opinion is an individual with a CT level of 35 or greater is likely no longer contagious, although doctors have expressed concerns about the inconsistencies of the CT levels between different PCR machines and genetic samples, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community," the NFL said in a statement. 

The changes to the league's policy are effective immediately and could have an impact for the Detroit Lions, who currently have nine players on the COVID-19 reserve list. 

When asked about the possibility of changes to the league's policies before the announcement, Lions cornerback Amani Orwariye welcomed them as long as they followed the science. 

“It all depends on the facts," Oruwariye said. "If there’s a certain time between that 10 days (maximum number a vaccinated player had to sit out) that they won’t be contagious, by all means, come in, be masked up. But if anyone’s contagious I think we should take safety first. This is all great and all, but that’s people’s live we’re messing with, people’s families. So we’ve got to be safe with it.”