Dr. Sills: NFL embracing challenge of coexisting with virus in 2020

In case the activities of the last two weeks haven't made it clear, the NFL is moving ahead with its 2020 season amid an ongoing pandemic.

On Monday, NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills provided an astute explanation for the NFL's decision to play, even as the spread of the novel coronavirus isn't showing many signs of slowing down soon.

"We know it's going to be tough," Sills explained during an appearance on Inside Training Camp Live, "but I believe we have protocols and screening in place that can help us identify this and we've got an unbelievable commitment on behalf of the players, coaches, staffs and our medical teams and so we're all working together to do this.

"People often say, 'Well why are you even doing this? Why pursue and move this forward?' I think we have to have a way to learn how to coexist with this virus. The virus is not going away any time soon. This isn't just an NFL issue or a pro sports issue, this is for our schools, our businesses, our places of worship, every aspect of our lives. Are we gonna be able to find ways to mitigate risk and still have some sense of our normal lives while we live with that virus? That's the challenge we all have and that's the challenge we're embracing here in the NFL."

The decision to resume professional sports hasn't been without relentless scrutiny, no matter the sport, though the individual leagues have gone about restarting operations in different fashions. The National Basketball Association has established a bubble in Orlando, Florida, with stringent requirements and protocols that have so far produced a clean and productive environment for its participants. Major League Baseball hasn't seen as much success with its setup, which has teams traveling to member cities like normal, but playing in facilities without fans while also operating under strict health and safety protocols.

The NFL's plans include movement to and from each club's home city, but not until each team has completed its training camp over more than a month's time in facilities that have undergone transformations due to new health and safety protocols. That's all part of a comprehensive health and safety program developed and agreed upon by both the league and its players' union with the goal of preventing spread of COVID-19 as effectively as possible.

Ideally, the NFL won't encounter a situation like the one MLB's Miami Marlins are still navigating, which has led to the postponement of games and cancellation of trips.

"With our protocols, we move very aggressively," Sills said. "We have contact tracing information available within a matter of minutes after a positive test and so we would then move very aggressively to isolate not only the newly positive individual but any of those close contacts. And that whole process involves very regular communication between the club, their infection control officer which each team has, their team's medical staff, us on the league side, the NFLPA and their medical advisors and our third-party infectious disease expert consultants. So the decision about how to manage individual cases or a team is really a group effort with the input and direction led by the medical professionals and that's how we would treat each one of these cases moving forward."

Skeptics might point to the length of time the NFL is attempting to spend completing its 101st season as a major deterrent to a safe and healthy campaign for all involved. After all, the Philadelphia Eagles have already been forced to operate without their head coach after Doug Pederson tested positive for COVID-19 despite being asymptomatic.

The league knows it will have to adjust accordingly with the passage of time. As with everything in this unprecedented time, expectations, standards and activities in life amid a pandemic can change quickly. Over the weekend, Saints coach Sean Payton said his club is taking it a step further by offering a space for sequestering in the weeks leading up to the start of the regular season in an effort to minimize the potential for virus spread as much as possible. In what is a copycat league, they might not be the only franchise to do so.

"We expect our protocols to change," Sills said. "They're gonna grow and they're gonna adapt as we do learn new things throughout the course of the season, and flexible and adaptable are kind of our bylines. That's something we're gonna have to be throughout all of this. So, I think all options remain on the table.

"Again, we need to see how the data comes in from the other leagues, as well as our own league and then we'll make the best decisions along the way that create the safest possible environment for players, coaches and staff. There's no perfect system, even the bubbles have some vulnerabilities and at the end of the day that's what this is about. We can't make the risk zero but we certainly want to make it as low as we possibly can and we'll continue to evaluate everything we do along the course of the season. Think about the NFL season lasting six months, it's gonna last longer than the entire time we've been battling this and so, absolutely, we'll change and we'll grow and we'll adapt throughout that time period."

We can't yet see the light at the end of what has been an incredibly difficult tunnel for humanity in 2020. Until we reach that point, hopefully the return of professional sports can brighten that journey -- as safely as possible.

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