NFL medical boss: New COVID-19 protocols to verify positives

Sports
Allen Sills, Jeff Miller

FILE- In this Oct. 15, 2019, file photo, Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, speaks during a news conference at the at the football league’s fall meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The NFL’s chief medical officer says it’s not surprising there have been positive tests for COVID-19 among players reporting to training camp because the disease is cutting across football just as it has through societies around the world. Players currently have to pass COVID-19 testing before they are allowed into training camp. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

The NFL’s chief medical officer says the league is establishing a new two-step protocol for players and coaches who have no known history of the COVID-19 infection and receive a positive test.

Dr. Allen Sills said Friday any individual in that situation who is also asymptomatic will be given two confirmatory tests on the day following the positive test result. Both confirmation tests are nasal swabs, Sills said.

During the confirmation period, the individual must remain out of the team facility and isolate at home until the confirmatory test results return. If both confirmatory tests are negative, the individual is not considered COVID positive and may resume all normal activity, including access to the facility.

If a test is ruled either invalid or inconclusive, or there is a “technical error,” the individual must retest. The restrictions will continue until the individual passes both tests.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford recently had a false positive. Sills preferred the term unconfirmed positive, saying signs of COVID-19 where there that did not pan out.

Stafford was put on the COVID-19 list and later taken off.

An adviser to the league on COVID-19 testing said health agencies throughout the country have been changing testing protocols frequently since the pandemic hit the United States in March.

Sills said the COVID tests are very accurate at detecting the small bits of RNA that match sequences in the virus. However, he noted those small bits are present for different reasons and sometimes don’t reflect a new and active infection.

“I think all of us would like these tests to operate like a home pregnancy test, either positive or negative,” said Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “There is nothing but two possible outcomes. That’s simply not the way these COVID tests operate. That is a difficult message and one that is hard to get our brains wrapped around.

“But it reflects of the lack of being able to have a direct viral test that actively cultures the virus,” he added.

Sills said 75,000 tests have been performed since teams started reporting to NFL training camps and the vast majority have been negative. He would not discuss the number of confirmed positives that have caused players to be put on COVID/IR.

“It’s safe to say the overwhelming majority have been negative,” Sills said. “Clearly at this point we have been monitoring very carefully, looking to see if we have any concerns about a type of outbreak, a significant number of new infections, and we have not seen that.”

Sills noted not every positive test meant a new case of COVID-19. He said people can come down with the disease and months later yield positive tests when the virus is no longer in their system. It’s called persistent positive.

The league also said members of NFL or NFLPA staff who conduct consecutive club visits must be tested several times prior to entering a club facility again, including a test 48 hours before the visit.

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