The NFL and NFLPA released updated and enhanced COVID-19 protocols Tuesday following positive game-day tests that produced numerous high-risk close contacts early this week.
Chief among the changes is a strong recommendation for all players and personnel to wear masks or double-layered gaiters when not actively participating in the game, which includes those players on the sideline, according to the memo obtained by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. The NFL and NFLPA noted the seven high-risk close contacts within one club -- presumably the Ravens, per NFL Network's Mike Garafolo -- could have been prevented had players worn approved facial coverings during their interactions, but did not, leading to their designation as high-risk close contacts. Those players must isolate for five days, per the protocol, making their availability for Week 9's games uncertain.
The enhanced protocol is also requiring all players and staff to wear face coverings in the locker room on game day, including the time spent prior to the game, during halftime and after the game. Mask use is also required of all postgame interaction participants to prevent transmission of COVID-19, with the memo strongly recommending avoiding such interactions altogether.
"Wearing a mask or approved face covering may be the difference between being designated a 'High Risk Close Contact' or not," the memo stated.
Home clubs must also provide at least 250 disposable surgical masks on each of the home and visiting sidelines.
In an effort to improve social-distancing practices, the league is also requiring clubs to expand the bench area footprints to the 20-yard lines, prohibiting use of chairs and encouraging use of additional benches to facilitate distancing. As with this requirement, mask/facial covering use when not on the field is emphasized as the most effective tactic to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills stressed the importance of taking every precaution possible to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which Sills said is growing more difficult as COVID-19 case numbers rise across the country.
"What we are trying to say is masks can prevent you from becoming a high-risk contact," NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said during Tuesday's conference call, per NFL Network's Judy Battista.