Annals of Internal Medicine, a leading peer-reviewed medical journal, recently published Optimizing SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance in the United States: Insights From the National Football League Occupational Health Program. This study, the fourth published peer-reviewed paper authored by NFL experts on COVID-19, explores the NFL's rigorous COVID-19 testing program implemented throughout the 2020 season. The paper shares key takeaways about PCR and antigen testing, adding to the growing contribution the NFL has made to the broader body of scientific knowledge informing the global fight against COVID-19.
The paper outlines two central findings. First, it concludes that daily PCR testing protocols enabled early detection of COVID-19 infection and were key to the successful completion of the 2020 NFL season. By analyzing the specific Ct values of viral samples over the course of the program, the league was able to recognize signs of early infection, as well as residual viral shedding in those who were previously infected with COVID-19. Moving forward, these findings will assist the league in identifying and understanding "breakthrough" cases in vaccinated individuals, in order to differentiate those cases from infections in unvaccinated individuals. This will be critical as infections in unvaccinated individuals will continue to require further action such as isolation from the team environment and other measures to prevent any further spread of the virus during the 2021 season.
Additionally, the newly published paper quantified the shortcomings of a certain type of rapid COVID-19 test. By conducting both PCR and rapid point-of-care antigen tests concurrently throughout the season, the league was able to conclude that a specific point-of-care antigen test was unable to reliably detect infection in its early stages, showing a high rate (42%) of false results among adjudicated COVID-19 cases.
The paper adds to a robust library of scientific research that has been developed as a result of the league's efforts to combat COVID-19. This Annals of Internal Medicine piece further demonstrates the role the NFL has played in contributing to the broader body of research about COVID-19 and informing actionable strategies that can be implemented to keep people safe in schools, businesses, churches, and any other settings that present risk of potential contraction of COVID-19.