Sports

NFL agrees to scrap COVID-19 protocols

The league sent a memo to teams Thursday that stated coronavirus testing, mask-wearing and other social distancing requirements will no longer be enforced.

“Based on current encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity of COVID-19, the evolving guidance from the CDC, changes to state law and the counsel of our respective experts, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to suspend all aspects of the joint COVID-19 Protocols effective immediately,” the league said. “We will continue to prioritize the health and safety of players, coaches and staff as we have throughout the pandemic.”

The changes come as restrictions get lifted across the country with the number of cases on the decline. A number of states have eased mask and vaccine mandates in recent weeks.

The league said that teams would still have to follow local laws. It also gave teams the choice of enacting a mask mandate if they elect to do so.

The league said individuals are still required to report symptoms of COVID-19 to their respective teams if they’re experiencing them.

By enforcing the changes, the NFL becomes the first major league to drop its protocols. The NBA and NHL still have stringent protocols in place, though have adjusted over the course of the past two years.

The NFL previously altered its protocols late last fall when the omicron variant started to spread throughout team facilities. As a result, the league and the union agreed to significantly cut down on the amount of testing — vaccinated players were only required to test if deemed close contacts, if symptomatic or randomly chosen — and shortened the period individuals had to sit out because of a positive test.

The league only postponed three games last season. Over the last two years, it has not been forced to cancel a game — navigating the pandemic on the fly and making adjustments when need be.

The league and the players’ union finalized the changes during this year’s NFL scouting combine. After the league initially mandated a bubble-like environment for prospects, the NFL scrapped its plans to do so after the threat of a boycott from prospects through their agents. Instead, the nearly-week-long event strongly resembles its pre-pandemic format. Masks, for instance, aren’t required indoors for most individuals.

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