Column

As COVID-19 rages, NFL teams, fans can’t let their guard down

Column

Across the NFL, the great majority of players and coaches are doing everything they can to avoid COVID-19. And as you can see, the coronavirus doesn’t care.

If you haven’t noticed, the pandemic is breaking daily records. The United States reported 116,707 new coronavirus infections Thursday, breaking a record that was set… Wednesday. Twenty states reported record single-day increases and those states are scattered all over the country, from coast-to-coast.

In the middle of the chaos, the NFL is determined to finish the season it started. But as cases in our communities rise, the NFL’s cases are rising too. Since Monday, 13 NFL teams have placed 33 players on the reserve/COVID-19 list and more teams have landed in intensive protocols because of positive tests. The Bears have been in the intensive protocol for multiple weeks this season and they had two confirmed positive cases this week with center Cody Whitehair and offensive tackle Jason Spriggs.

Because the NFL is continuing its season without team bubbles, the two following points cannot be stressed enough:

1. As cases continue to rise in communities where NFL players/staff live, COVID-19 will continue to make its way inside NFL facilities.

2. Social distancing and mask wearing can prevent full-blown outbreaks that shut teams – and perhaps the season – down completely.

I tell you this from experience. I tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

With a son who has underlying health conditions and a wife who works in healthcare, my family has been diligent and careful since March. But we also live in Lake County, Illinois where the positivity rate is at 9.5 percent and rising. In Cook County, the positivity rate is up to 10.1 percent. These are the two counties that nearly all Bears players, coaches and staff live.

 

As much as teams are stressing the need to create smaller bubbles at home, many players and coaches still have spouses and children. The risks can’t be completely mitigated. In my case, my wife works at a long-term care facility. In Lake County alone, there are 110 long-term care facilities that have had at least two cases of COVID-19, according to the county’s data hub. We’ve always known this is something that could make its way into our house.

But we also know that I very likely had COVID-19 for nearly a week before I actually tested positive, and as far as we can tell, there is no evidence I spread it to anyone else. That is most likely because every time I left my house, I wore my mask and socially distanced. Even our son tested negative, which we attribute to the measures we’ve taken in our house to keep him healthy, while understanding the risks around us.

Perhaps this information will help others (I’m happy to share more), because that’s more important than football. But in the football world I cover, the information is also relevant, which is why it’s so important teams continue to remain diligent in following the COVID-19 protocol. There is no doubt that daily testing, social distancing and mask-wearing help minimize risk, but they don’t eliminate risk completely. Still, they can be the difference between one or two players catching the coronavirus and a whole team getting shutdown. Or the rest of the season getting shutdown.

It appears that’s what the Bears experienced this week with Cody Whitehair.

“I think that's just a testament to how Cody (Whitehair) was, you know he had on the mask, he made sure that he had everything going on to make sure that he protected himself even though I don't think he knew he had it,” Bears safety Tashaun Gipson said Friday. “But he's a pro's pro so when I say wear your mask and do the things that's necessary to keep the team safe, he's a guy who'll do it and so that's why it wasn't a complete outbreak because, like him, we're able to do the things necessary.”

In my case, our precautions may have been the difference in spreading COVID-19 to my high-risk son. They were probably the difference in not spreading it to others around me before I knew I tested positive.

Fortunately, my symptoms are mild, but they continue to linger. I’m the epitome of a younger, low-risk adult and it still affected me in ways I’ve never experienced. And yes, I’m concerned about the unknown long-term effects.

 

So whether you’re an NFL team trying to win games during a raging pandemic or just a reader trying to stay healthy, now is the time to be more diligent than ever. Trust me, you don’t want to let your guard down.

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