NFL could be the leading example for COVID-19 testing policies

The NFL's decision not to test asymptomatic players for COVID-19 could be a sign of a new trend in pro-sport leagues. It may also set an example for society heading into 2022.

NFL could be the leading example for COVID-19 testing policies

The NFL and the players' union reached an agreement on Saturday to reduce testing for players who have been vaccinated, despite a rise in positive cases, which forced three games to be rescheduled. This move is in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance. The CDC recommends that "diagnostic testing only be done for symptomatic, close-contact vaccinated individuals" and that "screening tests only be performed for unvaccinated persons."

Before amending its protocols, the NFL required that vaccinated players be tested every week. Although the NFLPA advocated daily testing of vaccinated players, they eventually accepted "target" testing.

Although the NBA did not require players to be vaccinated during the season, it changed its policy to allow for more testing starting Dec. 26.

Every third day, the NHL tested players. However, daily testing continued through Jan. 7.

In an interview with the AP, Dr. Vin Gupta, a pulmonologist at the University of Washington, stated that the NFL "is actually going to be a really fascinating and I think really safe, real-world experiment on how our new normal will look like." It's clear that the NFL is a huge vaccine bubble, with a few notable exceptions.

"We cannot continue with the status quo," said Dr. Michael A. Smith. "We have to stop testing people who are otherwise healthy, asymptomatic and triple-vaccinated just to detect the individual who might become positive. Because then, you're going quarantine the individual who might be asymptomatic.

Nearly 95% of NFL players are vaccinated, as well as almost all coaches.

Gupta is an informal consultant to the Seattle Seahawks regarding COVID-19 issues, and an adviser to the Seattle Mariners about baseball's target and voluntary testing.

Gupta stated that he believes they are able to do things the rest of us can't because they have a vaccine. He also said that they can control certain things in a way that we cannot control. "It's an interesting experiment," Gupta added. We must create policies, procedures and case management protocols that support positive tests. This is a reality.

Monday was the first day of the NFL's revised protocols. On Monday, 47 NFL players were added to the reserve/COVID-19 roster, which is the highest number in one day since the pandemic. According to The Associated Press, several players had symptoms and were vaccinated.

According to the league, Monday's results show that its new smarter and more strategic testing policy is working. The league isolated the players from positive cases. Positive players must be quarantined until they are cleared to return. The new procedure allows players who have been vaccinated to return within 10 days.

"We want someone who is no longer a threat to themselves or others to return," stated Dr. Allen Sills (NFL's chief medical officer). "We have carefully reviewed our data there. That definition has been refined over time. We believe that we can add more precision to the process of how people can return to work by fine-tuning it in a way that is consistent with the protocols.

Many people are questioning the motives of the league for changing testing protocols when positive cases have increased dramatically due to the Omicron variant.

Dr. David Hamer from Boston University, professor of global medicine and global health, said that the other side of this is that there will be more infected players. This could lead to an increase in infections and a higher burden. Omicron surge is the main reason this plan change makes me nervous.

It is reasonable to wonder if NFL puts its desire to complete the season without interruption ahead of safety and health. The league and its doctors point to science, data, and their team of physicians.

Sills stated that "We are always analysing our data and especially our outcomes." Together with our experts and the Players' Association, we are looking at our protocols. They are being reviewed to ensure that everyone is safe. We also need to adjust the protocols as needed. This new variant, which in many ways looks like a new illness, has given us an opportunity to review all aspects of our protocols and led to some changes.

"We think that what we do now will be similar to what we have done in health care for quite some time. ... We don't routinely test asymptomatic, vaccinated doctors, health care workers, etc. We only test those who are symptomatic and fulfill certain criteria. We are simply joining the existing health care system based on our experience and that of others.

The league has also introduced new testing policies. This week, it has increased the importance of booster shots for players and mandated boosters for coaches and staff. It also offered options for virtual meetings. Home tests are available to all players and can be taken at any time.

"I believe there are a lot of lessons from health care, and I think it's very relevant to try to use some of those strategies when it comes to NFL population," stated Dr. Deverick. Anderson is Professor of Medicine at Duke Center for Antimicrobial Stewardship. He is also co-founder and coowner of Infection Control Education for Major Sports.

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