Media Briefing Transcript: Owner Update Call, Aug. 26, 2021

The NFL hosted a call with members of the media on August 26, 2021 to discuss that day's owner update call.


  • Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President overseeing Player Health & Safety
  • Dr. Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer
  • Dawn Aponte, NFL Chief Football Administrative Officer
  • Larry Ferazani, NFL Deputy General Counsel of Labor
  • Peter O'Reilly, NFL Executive Vice President of Club Business & Events
  • Brian McCarthy, NFL Vice President of Communications


Brian McCarthy: Thank you everyone for joining us as we are two weeks and about three hours, exactly, away from kicking off our 102nd season in Tampa. We just concluded an hour-long update to clubs, and we have on the line with us, and here in Jeff Miller's office, some of those participants, in order of appearance: Jeff Miller, Dr. Sills, Larry Ferazani, Dawn Aponte and Peter O'Reilly. You should have their titles in the email I sent you this morning. The one not on there was Larry Ferazani, and that one you would've seen in a letter posted online today. He is the NFL's Deputy General Counsel of Labor. So, they will say a few words off the top to get us going and take some questions. As always, this call is on the record and you can post in real time.

Lets begin with Jeff Miller.

Jeff Miller: Thanks, Brian. Good afternoon everybody. We just spent a little more than an hour with all 32, giving them an update, much like we did last year during the course of the 2020 season on the state of COVID, testing, the results of that, some of the data, how that impacts our protocols, how that affects football operations, and some other items including preseason, club business development stadium operations.

So, we started the call with a discussion of some of our principles, as always, the safety of all players and staff, like in 2020. That has not changed, of course, for 2021. Yet, the completion of all 272 games, much like we did last year, in that case 256 games, running up to and including the Super Bowl in Los Angeles, and to play highly competitive football with full stadiums of fans.

So, with those principles as background, Dr. Sills gave a medical update, Larry Ferazani talked about the protocols, Dawn Aponte and Troy Vincent discussed some of the football points of emphasis and Peter O'Reilly talked about club business development and stadium operations.

So, each one of them are going to give you a brief overview of their sections and then we will take some questions.

Dr. Sills, do you want to kick it off?

Dr. Allen Sills: Sure, thanks, Jeff. Good afternoon everyone. I am going to give you a brief update about our data and our observations thus far and some of the actions we are taking in response to those data.

Obviously, just to reiterate what Jeff said, our goal is to have the safest possible environment for everyone—players, coaches, staff, fans. And the way we do that is by constantly looking at our data and taking our data and what is being given to us from other medical authorities and reviewing it with a panel of experts. I think all of you know that we have infectious disease experts, epidemiologists, laboratory medicine, public health experts, sports medicine experts—a lot of these people would be very familiar to you because they are part of the national conversation in these areas. But, we worked directly with them as well as with CDC, FDA, other federal, state, local public health authorities, the NFLPA and their medical advisors. So, it is a constant process of looking at our data to create this environment of safety.

Our challenge right now, and something that we discuss with the ownership, is certainly that we are in a major surge—it is no secret to any of you nor is it a secret to any of us in medicine what the impact the Delta variant is having. It is a very different disease in many ways, I think. Different in the symptom profile it causes, particularly in vaccinated individuals, different in its transmissibility and its spread. But, despite those differences, we know that the mitigation measures are the same. The things we do to prevent transmission are the same measures we studied and learned and published about in the 2020 season.

I would like to say, and something that I said to the clubs in our call, was that I do think we are in a much better place than we were in last year at this time. I make that statement because I think we have a much more complete understanding of this virus and its transmissions and the testing and identification of it. We also have a lot of experience with protocols and mitigation measures which have worked and been successful but, by far, the main driver of my optimism is that we have a very highly effective set of vaccines which are working to ameliorate this pandemic. And let me be very clear—I think vaccines are working. Not just because of our NFL data, which I will share with you in a moment, that we are clearly seeing a positive benefit but again, any of us in healthcare will tell you that currently, the patients who are being admitted to the hospital and to the critical care units and are on ventilators, are overwhelmingly -- and by overwhelmingly, I mean more than 95% -- unvaccinated. That is the clear signal that vaccines are working from the standpoint of preventing serious illness and hospitalizations and deaths. And I think it is important point to say, what is success? You know, success to me as a physician is avoiding those serious illness, hospitalization and death and decreasing illness severity and duration and the vaccines are doing all of those things. As a League, we want to do all of those things and we want to avoid outbreaks. And I think that it is clear to us that is what success looks like. At the same time, I think we have to acknowledge, and we said this to the ownership, we will see positive tests in vaccinated people. That is the phenomenon of the Delta variant, that it still can produce these positive tests in vaccinated people. I don't consider that a failure simply because those vaccinated people, who become infected, or have a positive test, typically have a very mild upper respiratory illness. That illness has, again, milder symptoms compared to what we would have seen in previous iterations of this disease and it is also a shorter duration. So, again, that's to us what success looks like.

We also are already seeing, as we'll mention in our data, that the Delta variant has caused some clusters of cases in teams—meaning more than one positive. But that has not turned into an outbreak. And I use those terms not interchangeably. To me, they mean very different things. The difference is: a cluster of cases is a small number of cases among individuals that obviously share a connection and an exposure. As opposed to an outbreak, where you have evidence of ongoing transmission within the club on a widespread basis. We have not seen any outbreaks to date, and obviously that is our goal. And how do we manage those clusters? As we will talk about with our protocols here in a moment, we have been managing them the same way we did last year, which is intensive contact tracing, isolation of any infected individuals, isolation of any individuals who might be at risk and continuing to put everyone on heightened alert.

So, with those background comments, let me turn to a little bit of the data that we shared with the clubs. First of all, as of today, we are at almost 93% of our players that are vaccinated across the NFL. 99%+ of our staff. And again, I want to stop and pause and just remark on that achievement and share credit with our players, with our NFLPA, with our club medical staffs, with our coaches and everyone who has participated in that. That is a remarkable number. I think it is something that gives me the confidence to say that our NFL facilities are the safest places in their community, and I would also say, as a physician, if we had those kind of vaccination rates in society right now, we would be in a far, far different place with regards to where this pandemic currently is.

Some other data you may be interested in—between August 1 and August 21, we have had 68 confirmed positive COVID tests through the entire League. That is out of 7,190 tested individuals. So, before you do the math, I'll give you the answer—it is 0.95% incidence rate—0.95%. We don't really have a true comparison group for that number in society because no one else in society is testing at the magnitude that we are—we are not doing testing daily of people in society, or even among vaccinated people we aren't testing them at all in society or in healthcare so, we can't tell you an exact comparison. But again, based on public health data, I do believe those incidence rates are quite a bit lower than what we are seeing in most all of our communities.

Also, I would also tell you that, among players, this again is data just for players, currently we have 7x the incidence of positive tests among non-vaccinated, unvaccinated, players than we do those that are vaccinated. Those numbers are a rate of 2.2% incidence in unvaccinated players versus 0.3% in vaccinated players. So again, very clear evidence of the effect of vaccines, the protective effect of vaccines.

And then lastly, I would say for data, that we have had one recent cluster on a team and again without getting into the medical specifics, I would tell you that on that team, a total of 38% of the unvaccinated players have become positive in that cluster and that exposure which again, is over 7x the rate of those that are fully protected within that team environment.

So, we will talk a little more, Larry will, about our protocols. I would just say that in response to the data that I have just shared, we have already updated our protocols. We will continue to do so. Again, this in response to the surge and where we are with the Delta variant and it is something that we continue to evaluate every single day and we will continue to do that based on our data.

I do want to close by just saying that I am very optimistic about the season ahead. I think that our League last year and our entire environment showed tremendous resilience and collaboration and the willingness to adapt, as Jeff mentioned. So, I think we are off to a solid start. We know there is much more work to be done and we will just have to continue to evolve as the data takes us there, but I wanted to share with you those facts today.

Larry Ferazani: Okay, thank you and thanks Allen. So, really, the presentation we made, which is just amplifying based on the data that Allen just outlined, and from the beginning of the preseason through the early part of training camp our focus with the union was in negotiating protocols and coming up with educational platforms to really educate our players and staff and encourage them to get vaccinated. Because, as Allen said, there is nothing more important than ensuring that we have as close as 100% vaccination as possible. We had great success I would say to be able to get to that 93%. Now that we've gone through that first three weeks of training camp we are pivoting, we are able to take the data that we've been able to develop from the testing over those weeks and also combining that with what we have seen in our communities to try to figure out what adjustments do we need to make with our protocols in order to address this delta variant. Like we did all last season, we consulted with our experts, we negotiated with the union, we discussed different tweaks and the presentation today had several tweaks from how we are going to travel to when we may use masks, where we would base that upon last year's experience and this season's most recent data collection.

So, one of the areas that Allen mentioned was this enhanced mitigation protocol where we're able to target facilities and clubs that may have a couple positives or several positives, where we are using the tools that got us through last season successfully and we're tailoring to the experience that that club is having. And that's where working with the union, we are able to, depending on the circumstances, re-implement daily testing for people in that facility, require masking, distancing for meals and meetings, and so on and so forth. I think that has been successful early on in ensuring that whatever these small clusters are remain small and then extinguish pretty quickly.

The biggest discussion that we had and one that is still ongoing with the Players Association is: what should our testing cadence be? What we do know if that for players and for staff that are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, they are going to continue to remain in the daily testing cadence. That means they have to go into the facility every day, including days off and during their bye week, and get tested as they did last season. For players and staff that are fully vaccinated, there's been some discussion. We currently are requiring those staff and players to test every 14 days.

In response to what we're seeing in the trends, and what we have seen recently, we have proposed to the Players Association that we address that so that players who are fully vaccinated will test once every seven days. This is a formula by which we would test over a couple of days to be able to get a broader collection of information from a specific club and also allow players who have concerns or questions to have a second test in a given week or if they have a vulnerable co-habitant; a child under the age of 12 or somebody who is immunocompromised. They could have an additional test if they just wanted to have peace of mind when they go home. We are still waiting to hear back from the Players Association to see if we will make that adjustment or not. But that really is based upon our best effort talking to Dr. Sills and his group of experts and the collective wisdom as far as what we think renders the safest possible environment for our players. There are no other notable changes that are worth flagging.

McCarthy: We have may some questions for Larry, but lets go to Dawn.

Dawn Aponte: Thanks, Brian. Good afternoon. So, today we updated the clubs on where we are from a football perspective as we conclude the preseason this Sunday. In terms of the game, the game is in great shape as we enter 2021, building off the most prolific offensive season in league history. Games are competitive, unpredictable, specifically close games and comebacks, and we have young players thriving and exceling all over the field especially at quarterback. We also covered the competitive principles, again, health and safety of all remains our primary focus.

As Jeff mentioned, we are committed to playing a full season as scheduled and not anticipating a 19th week to accommodate postponements or rescheduled games. We don't anticipate postponements as a result of roster issues given that the 2020 roster flexibility rules will remain in place for this season. And, critical to last year's success, remaining flexible and adaptable will continue to be our collective approach.

With respect to the rules, we reviewed rule changes for the clubs including with regard to replay and video assistance in which now replay personnel, either on-site at the stadium or from New York, can provide certain specific objective information to the on-field official resulting in fewer game stoppages for a replay review. Final replay decisions will be made in New York by Walt Anderson and Perry Fewell in consultation with the referee. The Hawk-Eye system is new this year as well, with the key point being the increased efficiency in the decision-making process. This allows for access to all broadcast angles simultaneously. We also covered points of emphasis, taunting in particular. This was not a rule change, but rather a focus on setting an example for good sportsmanship and respect for opponents. The coaches sub-committee, the competition committee, the NFLPA, they all strongly recommended and supported taunting of an opponent being a point of emphasis for the officials beginning in the preseason. Another note, the NCAA is also making this a point of emphasis. Examples of taunting include acts directed at an opponent distinguishable from celebration which we continue to encourage. Finally, contingency planning is a focus every season. If need be, we will be prepared to adjust for any reason including weather, air quality concerns, or otherwise. I think that summarizes the key points. I am going to turn it over to Peter O'Reilly.

Peter O'Reilly: Thanks, Dawn. Also, on the meeting this afternoon we shared an update on fan engagement and excitement, specifically an update on ticket sales across the league as we sit here two weeks out from kickoff and the start of the regular season. We're seeing tremendous excitement from fans return to stadiums and very strong demand for tickets. Season ticket member renewals have now equaled a five-year high. Primary ticket sales are up significantly over 2019, which is clearly the most recent, comparable season, as our sales on the secondary market, really, really strong. That includes significant excitement from fans as seen through ticket sales to attend games in our two new stadiums, getting fans into SoFi stadium and Allegiant stadium for the first time. Really great momentum in LA with the Rams and Chargers, and Las Vegas with the Raiders. The fan excitement and ticket sales momentum is not only domestic, our two games in London this October at Tottenham stadium have sold very, very well. The general on-sale just began yesterday, and in less than 24 hours, we're almost sold out of all the inventory for both games, so great momentum for the return of the NFL to London this fall.

Clearly each of our clubs and stadiums is very focused on the health and safety of the fan experience attending a game this season. Building on the learning and success last season and hosting fans which includes things like the continuation of fan-friendly and health and safety practices like cashless experiences, contactless, all-mobile ticketing. A point of reference, 98% of our fans through Weeks 1 and 2 of the preseason entered on a mobile ticket, and all of the full cleaning stadium protocols that were in place last season. Clearly, each of our clubs is working closely with state and local authorities throughout the entire process. So, a lot of excitement, a lot of momentum as you would expect. A lot of pent-up demand. As we come through the preseason, we're seeing that in overall media engagement as well, but certainly through ticket sales as we head towards kickoff.

McCarthy: Thank you, Peter. At this time, we'll answer a few of your questions.

Question: Hi, this question is for Dr. Sills: Are you still doing genomic sequencing like you were last year? And if so, how? Or under what conditions this year? And then for Peter, do you expect any scenario where there won't be full stadiums this season?

Sills: I can start. Ken, yes, we are still doing genetic sequencing on the positive cases that we're seeing. That uses two different lines of information: One is that it tells us if this is, indeed, Delta variant -- and so far, this year almost all of the cases, positive cases, we've seen have been of the Delta variant, which again is not a surprise based on what we're seeing in our communities.

The other line of information is that it gives us some suggestion about possible relationship with cases from one individual to another. So, it doesn't absolutely prove that person A spread to person B, but it gives you some idea that they either shared a common exposure or could have transmitted – or, in the alternative, if those are completely unrelated, then it will demonstrate that also. And just to give you one illustration of that, Ken, in one of the case clusters we had so far this season on a team, about half of the positive tests were completely unrelated -- meaning that those came from completely different sources.

So, it just shows you how when you do have a cluster of cases, it's not always directly spread from one person to another that may be involved. Peter, I'll toss it over to you for the other part.

O'Reilly: Thanks, doc. Ken, we and our clubs are in daily and regular conversations with local and state authorities. But as we sit here right now, we don't anticipate any reduction in capacity this year. We really feel good about where we stand, given the vaccination rates across the country and feel as though we will be able to move through the season. Obviously, we don't take anything for granted; we work closely on all of our protocols, working with and under the guidance of those state and local authorities. As we sit here today, all 30 stadiums are able to be at full capacity and that's how we expect to go through the season in lockstep with those local and state authorities.

Question: Thank you, if I could ask one quick follow up to Dr. Sills: Have you seen any evidence that vaccinated players are transmitting to each other?

Sills: Yeah, again, Ken, it's a complicated question to answer because, as I said before, you try to understand transmission generally -- you can break down transmission events into the general environment and know, for example, people that went to dinner together, you know, may have shared a common exposure there -- but did it come from, you know, let's say someone they interacted with at that dinner -- and that person spread to all of them? Versus person A to person B to person C.

So, it is not always an exact science. I would just say that we have seen-- I think a more accurate way for me to answer your question would be: We have seen small clusters of positive cases among vaccinated individuals that share common exposure. But I want to clarify one other point with that -- I think something I said earlier: while we do see positive cases in vaccinated people, they are having very mild illness, meaning not a high burden of symptoms and also shorter duration of illness. And so, while I said earlier, I expect we will see positive cases in vaccinated individuals, the presence of a positive test in a vaccinated person is typically associated with a very different clinical scenario than what we're seeing in vaccinated individuals. And that's obviously true, both inside and outside the NFL.

Question: Great, thank you very much.

Question: Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. My question actually was in regard to what you referenced -- the players going out to dinner. The clubs you're speaking of, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans, they obviously had joint practices last week. I'm just curious what is being done as far as further testing, or maybe, elevated protocols for those organizations to try to get to the bottom of it. And if, in fact, you guys were able to kind of identify the source of all this.

Sills: Yeah, I can speak to that. So, when we have seen— let me speak a little more generally, when we have seen clusters of cases, what we do is, obviously, as I mentioned earlier, we go in and we do the contact tracing, we try to identify those individuals who are most at risk just like last year, we designate them as high-risk close contacts, whether they're vaccinated or unvaccinated. And then we put in place additional screening and additional mitigation measures.

So, in some cases, that has consisted of daily testing for everyone – all players and staff for a period of time. It also may involve putting everyone in a mask when they're indoors, in all indoor areas; trying to avoid in-person meetings or in-person meetings in small areas, much as we did last year; changing the meal arrangements so that people are not eating together; also things such as the screening that's done -- everyone gets screened on their way into the building; doing some more intensive screening and in-person screening. And then, of course, emphasizing symptom reporting and the household contacts and the things of that nature.

So, we have a number of those tools within our armamentarium. We have deployed those in several of these situations with the cluster -- and again, the point of those tools is to simply to make sure that we can identify anyone who might be at risk, try to isolate them away from the team environment, and put in enhanced mitigation measures. And so, we call that our "EMP," which stands for enhanced mitigation protocol. And as I said, we've already deployed that a couple of times, and deployed it with success, in the sense that we've not seen those case clusters turn into widespread outbreaks. Larry, you may want to amplify that if there's anything I left out.

Larry Ferazani: Yeah, I think that's it -- the contact tracing process is one that's given us the most information, that's allowed us to drive changes to the protocol. We're going to continue to do that.

Question: This is for Dr. Sills; Dr. Sills, JC Tretter was quoted the other day as saying that there was never really any talk between the League and the union about a vaccine mandate for players, which sort of suggests that the league never pursued that with the union; never sought that with the union. Is that an accurate portrayal of how that went? And also, the second part: is the NFLPA at this point still seeking daily testing for vaccinated personnel, along with your proposal for every seven days?

Ferazani: Let me jump in the first half of that – this is Larry. Hey, Mark, we saw that statement, quote – I honestly don't understand where that came from. We've been discussing with the Players Association mandatory vaccination from the start. In fact, as you will recall, we took the lead and required staff and coaches to be vaccinated in order to have access to players. And so, beginning at that point, we began banging the drum for what their experts also concede is the single greatest way that we can protect players and staff -- which is get to 100% vaccination level. So that was our request from that -- we would still love to see that mandate go into effect tomorrow. And players have done that voluntarily, and have been educated, and we're at 93% -- we still can improve on the final 7%, and we'd love to see that. As far as the cadence, if you want to address that, Allen?

Sills: No, sorry Larry, I got distracted by the visual of you banging a drum there. I would say, you know, we continue to have ongoing discussions with the NFLPA and their medical advisors and we're all looking at the same data and trying to determine what we think are the most effective mitigation strategies. Again, this data changes weekly and we have to make sure we're responding to what we're seeing and what we're learning just like we did last year. So, we'll continue those conversations. But make no mistake, I think one thing that's important to emphasize, Mark, is people tend to focus on testing and it's very important that we realize testing is not prevention. Testing is not preventing anyone from transmitting the virus. It is one part of our mitigation strategy but it's not the key part. And one of the things that we showed last year, and that we actually published this together with some of the NFLPA medical advisors and the CDC, was what kept us safe in 2020 and what prevented transmission were other mitigation measures such as masking and the avoidance of in-person meetings and in-person meals. So, testing obviously is something that is helpful, and it can be beneficial, but we try to apply it in a targeted and intelligent manner, and we try to test those people who are most at risk. And that's what we'll continue to recommend. But it's not testing alone that will get us through this surge or anything in the future of our season here.

Miller: Mark, this is Jeff, let me just add one point. We are testing daily those who are at the greatest or heightened risk: everybody who is unvaccinated and everybody who has been exposed. So, there's a great deal of testing going on a daily basis throughout our facilities and we'll continue to as we look for the best ways to combat the virus and make sure that our players and staff and all personnel are safe at our facilities.

Question: Mark Maske asked one of my questions. I'll just follow up with this: of the unvaxxed players, have there been -- without identifying any individuals -- have there been any brave enough symptoms to require hospitalization?

Sills: Yeah, to my knowledge, Chris, not to this point. I don't think that we have seen that among any of the positive cases that we've seen in the League, but certainly again, if we look in in our communities, and again I'm still a practicing physician, so I'm seeing this in our own hospitals. As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, well over 95% of all of those who are seriously ill enough to be in the hospital or intensive care unit are unvaccinated. And they also are not simply elderly. At this in this part of the pandemic, we're seeing more and more younger people and those who lack other obvious comorbidities who fall into that category.

Question: Hi. I guess this is a follow-up with Dr. Sills with what you were just talking about the mitigation strategy. So, given what you said there, how seriously are you guys considering reinstituting mandatory masking indoors for individuals regardless of vaccination status, similar to what we're seeing in some local communities right now?

Sills: Well as I mentioned, Lindsay, we're already doing that in situations where we feel that we may have a cluster of cases or where we feel that that there are substantial other driving factors such as very, very high community risks. And I think just like last year, all options remain on the table. I think that we have to simply adapt and adjust as we go along based on what the data is telling us. So, it's certainly something that we're tracking, and we have already put it in place in some of these situations that we described above.

Question: Dr. Sills, I recognize what you're saying about testing being one of many mitigation procedures, but I'm wondering what's the downside and the reason to oppose daily testing for everyone at this point? What would be the harm?

Sills: I don't think it's about a downside. I mean in medicine, Dan, we always look at what are the most effective measures to keep the patient safe, and what can we do that's going to have the most impact? And so, in medicine -- and I'm going to get into the weeds a little bit here so forgive me -- but in medicine, as you order or consider ordering a test whatever that may be, a lab test, an X-ray, a CAT scan, you always have to consider what the pretest probability or the prevalence of the condition is. And the lower that pretest probability, or the lower the likelihood of someone having that, then the more noise you get, the less signal you get. So, you will get a number of false positives, you'll get a number of cases in which it can be difficult to interpret. So, I think that's one consideration, is you have to think about the pretest probability and what you may actually find. That's distinct from if you have a cluster of cases where that pretest probability goes up substantially, and then you're looking, at you know, having a much more likelihood of having a bona fide signal that is present. And the test actually performed better in that situation, it's an epidemiologic phenomenon.

The second thing, I think, that you have to look at is -- we saw this last year -- testing did not prevent outbreaks. So, when we had outbreaks in some clubs -- that all of you are familiar with -- those clubs were tested every day just like all the other clubs were. So, you have to ask yourself, why did a certain club have zero positive tests throughout the entire season and another club have upwards of 30 positive tests over a short period of time? Well, it wasn't because of the difference in testing frequency. It was all of these other mitigation measures that we talked about that we know actually prevent transmission. And then along with that, I think that testing can sometimes initiate a false sense of security in the sense that you think, well, gosh, I've been tested. I can't be positive. Therefore, you know, I don't need to worry about some of these other measures, or I do have a little cough and some congestion, but I was tested, I must be fine. I'm not going to worry about that. It is just human nature to think, well if I'm tested, I must be negative. Everything is good. And we have seen multiple examples, especially with Delta -- this is a phenomenon of Delta -- where people can be asymptomatic, test negative on one day, and 24 hours later they can test with an extraordinarily large viral load, meaning at some time in that 24-hour period, that they converted. Now, the interesting thing about that is they almost always overwhelmingly have symptoms when they have that high viral load, which would have prompted them to hopefully report and be detected. But my point is that simply having a negative test on any given day doesn't mean that you're not going to be infected on that day and potentially pass it on to someone else. And that's why you have to count on the other mitigation measures that we've studied and looked at.

Question: Hi, thanks for the call. Dr. Sills, sorry to make you go back to the numbers again but I'm going to ask you to because I didn't catch it. Between August 1st and August 21st, what was the number of positives you said?

Sills: Sixty-eight. 6-8.

Question: Okay. Out of over 7,000 individuals. Correct?

Sills: Yes. 7,190 tested individuals.

Question: Okay and then my other question has to do with something related to how the virus presents itself in vaccinated versus unvaccinated people. And I believe that on that prior call, you were explaining that there's the viral load even in people who test positive for COVID-19 is lower in those who've been vaccinated versus unvaccinated. Is that correct?

Sills: Well, let me let me tease that apart. So, first of all, um, the symptom cluster in people who've been vaccinated tends to be much milder. So, we tend to see more upper respiratory symptoms whereas last year we might have seen high fever, chills, loss of taste and smell, general malaise. This year, people may think they have their allergies acting up or they have some mild congestion or a mild cough. So, it's a milder symptom complex at the time of diagnosis. Now, we do still see in conjunction with that, these high viral loads as evidenced by what's called the cycle threshold, which is: how hard does the test have to look for the signal to find it? And so that's a difference in 2021 compared to 2020, is that we're seeing smaller or lighter burden of symptoms at similar signals as what we might have seen last year. The other phenomenon that we're noting, and others have noted this too, there was just a paper that I think came out this week from another pro sports league, is we're typically seeing shorter duration of illness, which means that, you know, when you do test those positive people daily for a few days you see those the detection of virus disappear more quickly if they're vaccinated compared with the unvaccinated. And we have actually seen in instances already, and I think we're in double digits now, where people can test out of the protocol prior to 10 days being vaccinated. What that means is, again, they're clearing the virus more quickly. They have to have two negative tests separated by 24 hours. And so, I would say it's a different intensity of illness and a different duration of illness in vaccinated people that we're seeing even though the testing signal may look somewhat similar between vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Question: Yeah, thanks for doing this. I recognize that the officials have their own union, but because they share the field with coaches and players who are so highly vaxxed, I have to ask if there's anyone on the line who can speak to how vaccinated or unvaccinated for this season the officials are, whether there's a vaccine mandate for them and what protocols like testing and masking will be in place for this season for them?

Aponte: Hey, this is Dawn Aponte. So, in terms of our officials, they do have a union. They also have a set of protocols. They go hand-in-hand with the NFL/ NFLPA protocols that we developed, and they also follow similarly with respect to the masking, in their travel, as well as on the field requirements for all protocols. Only distinction is their testing requirement, which is -- they're different, 100% in line with what the fully vaccinated individuals are. And then for unvaccinated, it's slightly different.

Question: Okay, so there is no vaccine mandate?

Aponte: No, there is not a vaccine mandate.