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NFL further tightens COVID-19 protocols

Mike Florio and Charean Williams discuss how the Ravens' positive COVID tests will impact their Thanksgiving showdown against the Steelers and the rest of Baltimore's season.

As the NFL continues to struggle with the pandemic, the NFL has once again enhanced the rules aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.

A November 23 memo from the league office to all teams outlines further changes to the rules applicable to the 32 teams. The highlights appear below.

First, starting with Week 12, any players who are not substituting or entering the field of play will be required to wear a mask or a double-layered gaiter.

Second, play-callers also will have the same requirements as coaches who opt for a face shield. Specifically, they’ve be required to wear face masks or double-layered gaiters in addition to the face shield.

Third, all post-game interactions will be limited. “At the conclusion of the game, players and team personnel must wear masks and may briefly exchange greetings with the opposing team before promptly proceeding to their respective locker rooms,” the memo explains.

“Players who fail to wear masks on the sidelines will be subject to discipline,” the memo says. “Clubs are required to enforce these rules. Violations by players and/or staff will result in accountability measures being imposed upon the Club. It is strongly recommended that each Club designate one or two individuals in the Bench Area to ensure compliance with these rules.”

The league in recent weeks has become particularly concerned about potential sideline exposures during games, given the extent to which players huddle together while plotting strategy or receiving instruction from coaches. However, TV cameras routinely capture players pressed tightly together with no masks in sight.

The league also game-day attendance to 62 players, a number that includes players on injured reserve. (For example, if the Saints take quarterback Drew Brees to Denver this weekend, he’ll count toward the 62.) Teams must submit the list of the 62 players who will attend the game by 4:00 p.m. ET the day before the game.

Finally, the league has further limited access to club facilities when coaches and players are present. Only “Essential Football Personnel” may be in the building, with a maximum of 70 individuals. Up to 25 essential support personnel (food prep, security, cleaning staff, P.R.) may be present, but must have limited or no contact with Essential Football Personnel.

All other personnel must work remotely or at a location physically separate from the facility where players and coaches operate. This restriction officially becomes effective on November 30; however, teams are strongly encouraged to implement these specific rules as soon as possible.

These new measures represent the latest effort to further limit opportunities for players to be exposed to individuals who may have the virus. As the pandemic continues to rage, and with the Thanksgiving holiday threatening/promising to take the problem to even new heights, it’s critical that the league and its teams find a way to keep players and coaches safe.

Of course, the safest approach would be to put everyone in a hotel. Hopefully, that will happen before games are lost to the pandemic.