NFL updates COVID-19 testing protocols to address false positives

NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills has maintained the league's health and safety protocols will evolve with more time and understanding of the novel coronavirus, and on Friday, the league issued changes.

In a memo sent to all 32 teams, Sills introduced an updated protocol that included key changes in the way test results are considered, testing protocol following an initial positive test, and the length of the testing exemption period, among other important points of focus.

Test results reported as "presumptive positive" or "inconclusive" should be considered the same as "positive" with regard to further testing, treatment and screening, according to the memo. If a player with no known history of COVID-19 infection (as proved by a documented test) receives a new positive test result and is asymptomatic, then two types of confirmatory tests will be run on the day following the positive test result. During that time, the tested individual must remain out of the facility and isolate at home until the confirmatory test results return. If both types of confirmatory tests are negative, then the individual is not considered COVID-19 positive and may resume all normal activity.

Similar processes are called for by the adjusted protocol in the event the initial test is "invalid" or "inconclusive," per the memo.

The change in protocol comes in response to, among other things, the false positive test for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, per NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

"We always want to produce the most accurate test results," Sills said on a conference call with reporters, per Rapoport. ... "When you have 75,000 tests, you collect a lot of learning."

Sills would not confirm the NFLPA's count of 56 players testing positive, per NFL Network's Judy Battista.

In the memo, Sills included a reminder directing all players and tiers 1 and 2 personnel to wear a facemask at all times when in the facility (except players may remove their masks when physical activity prevents their use). In response to the use of face shields, the memo stated such shields are not an acceptable substitute for face masks, though they may be worn in addition to a mask for additional protection.

False-positive tests and positive tests for players who have some remnant of the virus that is no longer active have revealed a gray area in the league's existing protocol. These changes aim to address those situations with the goal of maintaining safety with isolation of said players, but also avoiding players missing games due to false-positive tests, per Battista.

As for daily testing, which Browns center and NFLPA president JC Tretter has called for beyond the end of the initial two-week window, Sills did not rule it out, per Battista. Further discussion and analysis of results are needed, Sills said.

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