NFL Chief Medical Officer to Players: Holidays Present COVID Risk; Stay Vigilant

Dr. Allen Sills provides tips to minimize risk during holidays

Football and the holiday season are inexorably linked – from the NFL's traditional Thanksgiving slate of games to backyard pigskin-tossing after the big meal, football and family gatherings are joined at the hip this time of year as staples of American culture. And just as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused the 2020 football season to look quite different, so too will our holiday gatherings.

In a video message to players released ahead of Thanksgiving, NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills discussed the ways in which holiday celebrations will need to be adjusted amid the pandemic. Noting that holiday gatherings, like all gatherings of people, carry heightened risk, Dr. Sills urged players to "be aware of" their risks and to take basic preventative actions. Most of Dr. Sills's recommendations are familiar reminders: smaller gatherings, mask-wearing, social distancing, and isolation of symptomatic individuals.

Dr. Sills mentioned that eating in groups – which, inherently, must be done without a mask – is an especially risky activity. Calling dining a "vulnerable time period," Dr. Sills highlighted the need for hand washing and social distance during meal time. The league's analysis of contact tracing data over the course of the season have underscored the risk of eating in groups; accordingly, the league's intensive COVID protocols (which became mandatory for all 32 clubs for the remainder of the season as of Nov. 21) require that all meals served at team facilities be "grab and go."

Dr. Sills also advised that while cooking a Thanksgiving meal may be an all-team effort most years, amid a pandemic it is advisable to limit the number of food preparers; only a handful of designated cooks should be allowed in the kitchen. This will limit the number of people coming in contact with each dish.

While the holidays are sure to present a real challenge – especially as cases continue to rise nationwide – the NFL has undertaken a robust effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. With the guidance of scientists and public health officials, the league developed a comprehensive set of thoughtful, evolving protocols that have guided the 2020 season. As we move into the holiday season and beyond, Dr. Sills has cautioned that continued vigilance, mindfulness, and caution will be essential on the road to Super Bowl LV.