NEWS

NFL Suspends All COVID-19 Protocols for the 2022 Season

NFL players wearing face masks.

Rob Carr / Staff / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The National Football League and the Players Association have suspended all COVID-19 protocols.
  • Players and staff will not be required to wear masks or complete mandatory surveillance COVID testing.
  • Health experts believe it’s too early to drop restrictions for a high-contact sport not knowing how effective vaccines are at preventing transmission and protecting against new variants.

The National Football League (NFL) and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have agreed to drop all COVID-19 protocols for the 2022 season after nearly two years of following restrictions. The league is now officially the first major professional American sports league to drop all protocols.

The league sent a memo to the 32 teams on Thursday citing “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” as reasons for the return to normal operations.

The NFL memo lists some protocols that will be lifted, including: 

  • Regardless of vaccination status, there will no longer be mandatory surveillance testing of players or staff, however, teams are expected to have a space inside their facility to accommodate anyone who may have or report symptoms.
  • Clubs don’t have to have any signs regarding mask-wearing or physical distancing in their facilities but may continue to use signage openly.
  • Players and staff are not required to wear masks or face coverings regardless vaccination status, however, teams can require it individually. This protocol is based on state and local requirements.
  • Players and staff no longer need to wear Kinexon tracking devices for contact tracing. 
  • Restrictions and capacity limits have been dropped in weight rooms though each team can establish its own rules.

Despite the updated protocols, all individuals must continue to monitor themselves for symptoms on a daily basis before entering the team facility and any individual who tests positive for COVID-19 will have to isolate for five days after their positive test. Teams are also required to remain in compliance with state and local laws and may continue “reasonable measures to protect their staff and players,” the memo stated.

The NFL also stated that should a reason arise to reimpose some of these protocols they will work with teams and officials to reinstate them.

The Associated Press reported nearly 95% of NFL players and about 100% of NFL staff were vaccinated.

Is It Too Soon for the NFL to Drop All COVID-19 Protocols? 

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that new daily COVID-19 cases are dropping, it is too soon for large professional sports leagues—including high-contact sports teams—to remove health protocols that have been in place, Andrew Noymer, PhD, associate professor of population health and disease prevention public health at the University of California Irvine, told Verywell.

“I think it’s a poor decision and it’s not in the best interest of the players to drop vaccine requirements and other precautions,” he said. “I think it may result in more sick players even though players in the NFL are extremely healthy young men and potentially staff who are older on average.”

Noymer added while public health experts have learned new things about the virus in the last two years, much is still unknown about the virus, including how effective the vaccine is at blocking transmission and how the vaccine will protect against circulating variants.

“There’s this feeling that COVID is over and will be milder than the winter that’s just ending, but COVID is endemic now,” Noymer said. “Endemicity just means endless cycles of COVID which will probably trend towards a flu-like pattern, meaning we can see peaks in the winter and quiet periods in the summer. In an organization as large as the NFL, it could be that we’ll see some hospitalized NFL players or staff.”

How Might This Impact Virus Transmission?

According to Noymer, easing health restrictions and protocols in the NFL could likely lead to more transmission and outbreaks of the virus because players and teams are in close proximity to one another. He adds since players will not be testing consistently and thoroughly as they used to in previous seasons it’s possible that COVID-positive players may go on the field without even knowing it.

“COVID cases in these healthy young athletes are often asymptomatic so when protocols are being followed, people have to sit out of the game and isolate because they have a positive COVID test,” he said. “But if the lessening of the protocols also includes less severe testing and frequent testing, we’re turning a blind eye to positive tests and if someone is asymptotic then that might be a way to mitigate.”

If more people silently carry the virus and later test positive, Noymer believes it can lead to game cancellations or rescheduling of games. 

What This Means For You

Although the NFL is dropping COVID-19 protocols, other sports leagues, teams and athletes should consider keeping safety measures that have been in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Waiting to See if Other Sports Leagues Follow Suit

Other sports leagues including the National Hockey League (NHL), National Basketball Association (NBA), and the Major League Baseball (MLB) have been following similar protocols (masking and COVID-19 testing) in past and current seasons. It’s unclear whether these teams will follow the NFL’s lead.

Noymer added it’s less likely for collegiate sports and athletes to take similar action since they follow college rules, including ones that are put into place by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

“It’s a question for the NBA and other major league sports teams if they will follow the NFL, but I don’t think it’s the right move to drop COVID restrictions knowing that COVID has killed nearly a million Americans in two years,” Noymer said.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In focus: COVID-19 community levels.