LAKE FOREST, Ill. – It was supposed to be a quiet Sunday at Halas Hall. More than a couple vets were given off days following Saturday afternoon's physical practice, and the plan was for Sunday's session to basically be a glorified walk-through. Then, six hours before the scheduled start (9:20a), Matt Nagy got a phone call. It was Andre Tucker, the team's Head Athletic Trainer and Infectious Control Officer.
"At around 2:51, I think my wife turned around and gave me the forearm shiver and said, 'answer your phone,'" he said. "I had it on vibrate. So I answered the phone and saw it was Andre. And usually when there’s a call at 2:51 in the morning, there’s something to it."
Tucker informed Nagy that the latest round of team coronavirus testing had revealed that nine members of the Bears tested positive for COVID-19. Immediately, the two of them – along with GM Ryan Pace – quickly worked to nail down specifics on who tested positive (info the team is obviously keeping private), and began planning out next steps. Attention quickly turned to Sunday morning's practice, which was scheduled to start around 9:30. Given that players and staff would start arriving at Halas well before that, the team decided to push practice into the afternoon; the morning was then spent getting everyone involved back in for second tests.
"The biggest thing in these types of situations is the situation process has to be really clean and clear," Nagy said. "That’s where I was really excited for the way we went about communicating with the coordinators, the coaches, the players early – just letting them know, ‘Hold on for the now. We’re gonna delay this thing. Let us work through this a little bit.’"
Nagy described his initial reaction as 'sheer disappointment, and frustration,' and remarked that it didn't really sink in until they were going over all the contact tracing information.
"Once we got through that, you initially think, ‘Hey, this is real,'" he said. "We’ve got to deal with this now. What’s the plan?’ And so when the plan is X amount of numbers of people, you put together a strategy that this is what we’re gonna do. And then all of the sudden, throughout hours of discussions and talk, as we got further and further into it, we realized really what was going on."
What was going on, specifically, was that each confirmed case ended up being a false positive. Shortly after all nine of the second tests came back negative, word started getting out that this wasn't a Bears-specific issue; Chicago was one of '10-11' teams affected by a processing issue at BioReference, the laboratory that has partnered with the league for testing.
"When they all came back negative, then that’s when you start realizing, ‘OK, what’s going on here?'" he said. "And then you start finding out that there’s other teams that this is happening to."
At 9 a.m., Nagy addressed the team as a whole about the situation. Talking to 140 people, he outlined what the improvised Sunday schedule would look like. After that, he spent time reaching out to different individuals on offense, defense, and special teams to try and answer questions and concerns more specifically.
And then, a little before 1:30 p.m., the Bears were back on the field running through installs in t-shirts and shorts. As the team tries to navigate through, as Nagy put it, the "year of the contingency plan," Sunday's episode provided valuable foresight into how team ops would work if and when the second tests don't come back negative.
"You have to have what ifs and backups really in everything you do, whether it’s positions, or whether it’s scenarios of what could happen," he said. "When you get to the season, you could get into this situation with players, that all the sudden you don’t have going into a Saturday or Sunday game.
"It's a credit to them. They didn't flinch."