The Bears closed Halas Hall Thursday morning, sending home players and staff before a scheduled 12:45 p.m. practice due to a player testing positive for COVID-19. That player, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported, is offensive lineman Cody Whitehair.
“This morning we were notified that another Bears player has tested positive for COVID-19,” a statement from the Bears read. “As a result, the club has decided to pause all in-person football activities and close Halas Hall. Today’s practice has been canceled and all meetings will be conducted virtually.
“The player who tested positive and all close contacts have been contacted and have already begun self-isolation. We will continue to work closely with the NFL medical experts and follow the league’s intensive protocol. The health and safety of our team, players and staff are the highest priority.”
The Bears already had placed offensive lineman Jason Spriggs on the COVID-19 list after he tested positive, and right guard Germain Ifedi was deemed a close contact and placed on the COVID-19 list as well. Close contacts must isolate for a minimum of five days, meaning Ifedi could be available for the Bears’ scheduled Week 9 game against the Tennessee Titans.
Anyone who was deemed a close contact of Whitehair’s, though, would not be eligible to play Sunday. If that game is played as scheduled at all.
But right now, even though the news of a second positive COVID test is jarring, I would bet on the Bears still playing Sunday.
The NFL is proceeding with Thursday night’s Packers-49ers game despite 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne testing positive for the novel coronavirus Wednesday. With his close contacts placed on the COVID-19 list, the 49ers will play tonight with one wide receiver on their active roster (it does mean you’ll probably see a lot of old friend Kevin White, though).
The Green Bay Packers, too, had running back A.J. Dillon test positive earlier this week, and had two close contacts land on the COVID-19 list, ruling them out for Thursday night's game. Which, again, is still being played as scheduled.
While “Week 18” remains a possibility for the NFL to play a full 16-game season, the league seems desperate to finish its regular season on time. Even if that means leaving the 49ers with barely anyone to throw to.
Even pushing Sunday’s game back a day or two is probably a non-starter for the NFL, seeing as the Titans are set to play the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday Night Football next week. Would the NFL push the Titans-Colts game back from Thursday to Sunday and lose out on a lucrative TV window? Probably not.
The league would rather see a depleted Bears team play Sunday afternoon than lose out on a second Thursday night game in 2020. The Titans’ COVID outbreak caused significant scheduling changes, including moving a Chiefs-Bills game off Thursday night in October.
For the Bears, we’ll have to see if anyone else is added to the COVID-19 list later Thursday besides Whitehair – an indication those players were close contacts. The relatively good news for the Bears is Whitehair did not participate in Wednesday’s practice at Halas Hall, as he remained out with a calf injured suffered Week 7 against the Los Angeles Rams.
But if more offensive linemen are deemed close contacts of Whitehair’s, you start to wonder if this team may even have enough O-linemen to even field an offense on Sunday. The Bears only had eight offensive linemen available for Wednesday’s practice. Five were on the active roster (starting left tackle Charles Leno Jr., and reserves Rashaad Coward, Alex Bars, Arlington Hambright, Lachavious Simmons) and three on the practice squad (Dieter Eiselen, Aaron Neary and Badara Traore, who contracted COVID-19 in early October).
The Bears, certainly, hope Ifedi could be available on Sunday. And coach Matt Nagy has remained confident in the team’s adherence to social distancing and mask wearing to prevent a major, Titans-like outbreak. The Bears, too, have been in the NFL’s intensive COVID protocol for weeks.
But we’ll see in the coming hours and days if the Bears, indeed, can proceed with playing on Sunday. The virus will determine if they will – but don’t forget that the NFL really, really, really wants this week's game in Tennessee to be played as scheduled, too.