Since the start of Week 15, more than 200 NFL players have tested positive for COVID-19. This number makes up around 10 percent of the league.
With the increase of positive tests, and the daily positive test record continuing to be broken (right now it’s at 51 in one day), the NFL has adjusted its COVID protocols, including increasing testing.
Three games in Week 15 were even postponed to Monday and Tuesday. The Browns faced the Raiders on Monday (originally intended for Saturday); the Washington Football Team vs. the Eagles and the Rams vs. the Seahawks games were moved to Tuesday.
MORE: NFL power rankings for Week 16
The start of Week 16 saw the most positive cases in one day so far during the pandemic. Sporting News has the list of all the players who’ve entered protocols since the beginning of Week 16:
NFL players in league COVID protocols
Listed players reflect only official team rosters as of 7:00 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 20.
NFL COVID vaccine rules
Here is the COVID protocol for vaccinated players, according to the NFL:
Vaccinated individuals who test positive and are asymptomatic will be isolated and contact tracing will promptly occur.
The positive individual will be permitted to return to duty after two negative tests at least 24-hours apart.
After that, they will be tested every week or as directed by the medical staff.
Vaccinated individuals will not be subject to quarantine as a result of close contact with an infected person.
The main difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated players is that vaccinated players don’t have to worry about being a “high-risk” close contact at any point. They also have more freedom to participate in activities than their unvaccinated counterparts. Vaccinated players can go out on the road and more easily spend time with teammates outside the facility, among other perks.
What is NFL’s COVID protocol for unvaccinated players?
The NFL’s COVID protocols are stricter than those for vaccinated players. They are as follows, per the NFL:
If an unvaccinated person tests positive, the protocols from 2020 will remain in effect. The person will be isolated for a period of 10 days and will then be permitted to return to duty if asymptomatic.
Unvaccinated individuals will continue to be subject to a five-day quarantine period if they have close contact with an infected individual.
Unvaccinated players also have more procedures they must follow to avoid falling into COVID protocol. They include the following:
Unvaccinated individuals must be tested for COVID every day at the team facility. If a player misses even one day of testing, they will be required to test negative for COVID for five straight days before re-entering the facility. That’s what happened to Cam Newton before the final week of the Patriots’ preseason.
Unvaccinated free agents must also test negative for five consecutive days before being allowed to enter a team facility.
Unvaccinated players must wear masks at all times in the facility. They cannot gather in groups larger than three players and on the road “are prohibited from congregating, visiting or mingling with individuals outside of the traveling party once they have arrived in the game city.”
Unvaccinated individuals are subject to fines if they break COVID protocols. This can include anything from failing to wear a mask in the facility or going to an indoor concert or house party with more than 15 people.
When is a player considered fully vaccinated?
The NFL considers a player fully vaccinated if they fall into one of the two following categories: They either are 14 days removed from their final dose of Pfizer, Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or they previously contracted COVID and are 14 days removed from a single dose of any vaccine.
MORE: NFL players sound off on postponements amid COVID outbreak
Will the NFL postpone games because of COVID?
The NFL has left the door open for potential postponements. That said, the league has said that “postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the commissioner’s discretion.”
Of course, the NFL has also said that it’s hoping to play its full, 272-game schedule “in a safe and responsible way,” so it seems likely that the league will consider postponements where appropriate.
However, the NFL has noted that the burden of postponements or cancellations will fall upon teams featuring COVID spikes among unvaccinated players. If outbreaks occur among vaccinated players, the league will seek to “minimize the burden” of that club.
If a game is canceled/postponed because a club cannot play due to a Covid spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection. We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs. If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.
What does that mean? If a team has an outbreak that impacts unvaccinated players, they’re less likely to get a favorable ruling from the NFL. So, they may be forced to play significantly shorthanded or at a less convenient time.
The NFL also has stated that if a game cannot be rescheduled within its 18-week season due to a COVID outbreak amid non-vaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will be forced to forfeit.
Additionally, the league said that “games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster issues caused by injury or illness affecting multiple players, even within a position group.” That principle was in action last year, and the Broncos were the best example of it in action. They had to play with practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton as their quarterback after their quarterback room was exposed to the virus.
Will the NFL add an extra week because of COVID postponements?
No, it’s not planning to. The NFL confirmed that they are hoping not to extend the regular season past 18 weeks (17 games and one bye).
:We do not anticipate adding a “19th week” to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season.”
Perhaps the NFL will change its tune if COVID becomes a bigger issue than the league anticipates, but for now, don’t expect the league to add another week to the season.