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NFL’s top doctor promises final coronavirus protocols “fairly soon”

As the clock keeps ticking, the NFL is trying to avoid a situation in which the bell will be tolling on the 2020 season.

Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, tells Mark Maske of the Washington Post that the final coronavirus protocols for the 2020 season, including frequency of testing and treatment options, will be finalized “fairly soon.”

On June 7, the Commissioner communicated a facilities and stadiums protocol to all teams. The NFL Players Association promptly told the players that the union had not signed off on any of the measures contained in the document. Ravens coach John Harbaugh later called compliance with the restrictions “humanly impossible.”

This has contributed to a sense, from an outsider’s perspective, that the plan is there is no plan. Or, at best, that the plan is they’ll come up with a plan on the fly, making it up as they go. That’s surely (hopefully) not the case, but that’s the impression that has been created by recent events.

Of course, that impression comes from the league’s commitment to extreme flexibility, up to and including a shift to the “bubble” concept mentioned recently by Dr. Anthony Fauci. That’s the same “bubble” concept that we mentioned in late March, resulting in many rightfully questioning our sanity.

It would be very difficult to pull off a “bubble” approach with 32 franchises of 65 players and coaching staffs and other essential staff members. It would be virtually impossible to pull it off as an on-the-fly Plan B or Plan C or Plan 9.

For now, here’s what Dr. Sills would say about the possibility of a “bubble” approach: “I would just say that we have considered collectively, together with the [NFLPA], a number of different models and scenarios.”

As a practical matter, there will be models and scenarios that simply aren’t worth the effort. The “bubble” concept, given the logistics and expenses and donut holes (such as boredom and monotony driving some players to break protocol and exit the bubble and potentially catch the virus), probably is more trouble than it’s worth.

The real question is whether and to what extent rapid-response diagnostic testing will be readily available by September. The only way to avoid on-field outbreaks (short of playing in hazmat suits) will be to ensure that no one gets into a facility or a stadium without first testing negative. If only one player who is shedding virus gets onto a field with 21 other players, the fuse will be lit for an outbreak that could knock out a team and, potentially, knock out the season.