The NFL is continuing its return to normalcy.
Following two years of restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 global pandemic, league operations for the upcoming season mostly will reflect that of pre-pandemic times.
In March, the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to immediately suspend all aspects of their joint COVID-19 protocols, citing recent trends that the spread of coronavirus is declining. That includes mask requirements, contact tracing, capacity limits and other protocols, unless required by state or local laws.
"Based on current 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, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to suspend all aspects of the joint COVID-19 Protocols," the league announced in a memo that was sent to all 32 teams and obtained by NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. "We will continue to prioritize the health and safety of players, coaches and staff, as we have throughout the pandemic."
Despite the limitations and complications of the previous two seasons - which included strict protocols, postponed games and shorthanded teams - all 554 games were played.
Though protocols that had been in place are being abolished, the COVID-19 virus has not yet been fully eradicated. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll are among those who recently tested positive and were forced to isolate.
Here is what you need to know about the NFL and teams’ COVID-19 policies for the 2022 season:
Are NFL players required to be vaccinated?
There is no vaccine mandate for NFL players, but the league reported that about 95 percent of the players and nearly 100 percent of team personnel were vaccinated.
Ahead of the 2021 season, the league created strict guidelines surrounding the coronavirus. The league mandated that if a game could not be played due to an outbreak among unvaccinated players and could not be rescheduled during the season, the team with the outbreak would be credited with a loss in a forfeit. On top of that, no players -- from either team -- would be paid for the canceled game. The team with the outbreak would then have to cover financial losses and be subject to possible discipline from the league.
What happens if an NFL player tests positive for COVID-19?
The league has eliminated mandatory testing of players and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Testing will occur only when clinically indicated or at the direction of a team physician. The league memo sent in March encouraged all individuals to monitor themselves for symptoms daily before entering team facilities.
Each team must have a facility to accommodate anyone who reports symptoms that require testing. Any player or staffer experiencing symptoms must report to the medical staff and test negative before returning to the facility.
If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, they must isolate for five days.
What COVID-19 protocol changes did the NFL make?
There will no longer be mandatory surveillance testing or mask requirements for players and staff, regardless of vaccination status.
Weight room restrictions, including capacity limits, have been dropped, though each team can impose its own rules for weight room usage.
Contact tracing devices have not been required since Jan. 3, and the service is being discontinued.
Signage for social distancing and mask use at team facilities are no longer required.
Do NFL stadiums require proof of vaccination?
Barring an increase in the spread of the COVID-19 virus, NFL stadiums are not expected to require proof of vaccination during the 2022 season.
In 2021, only a handful of NFL teams required proof of vaccination for entry into their stadiums. That included, in some form, the Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Las Vegas Raiders.
While most teams did not implement a vaccine mandate, many had varying mask policies.
During the 2020 season, the COVID-19 pandemic kept fans away entirely from 12 NFL stadiums and limited crowds for the rest of the league. There are no longer restrictions on how many people can attend games.
Should the need to reimpose aspects of previous protocols arise, the NFL will work in conjunction with the NFL Players Association to do so.
With the Associated Press