The NFL is working on a plan for COVID-19 false positives, but is there an answer?


Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was placed on the team's reserve/COVID-19 list earlier this week, only to be removed a few days later after his positive COVID-19 test was determined to be a false positive.

With the start of the NFL season still a month away, it didn't necessarily harm Stafford or the Lions in any tangible way.

But it certainly brought up an important question as we head into the 2020 season: What will the NFL do about false positive tests when games start?

Here's how the NFL currently handles its reserve/Covid-19 list:

The reserve/COVID-19 list is a temporary injured reserve due to the ongoing coronavirus.

Players can be activated off the list once they receive medical clearance, which entails passing NFL/NFL Players Association treatment and protocols. Unlike the standard injured reserve, there is no specified time frame for a return.

The agreed-upon protocols indicate that if a player tests positive but has no symptoms, he can return to the facility 10 days after the initial positive test or if he receives two consecutive negative tests within five days of the initial positive test.

Per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, the league is currently trying to figure out what to do with false positives:

The Stafford situation did enough to prompt some action. According to sources, the NFL and NFLPA are discussing adjusted protocols for players who have persistently tested negative, and have a single positive, followed by more negative tests.


It's good that the league is considering this very likely scenario, but figuring out a protocol to handle false positives is extremely dicey. As in, there might not be a good and healthy answer.

For a fair and competitive season, losing a quarterback or another star player to a false positive close to gameday could change an entire season. And while health and safety are clearly more important than football, what's the point of even holding a season if you can't guarantee fair and competitive play?

On the other hand, you also can't just ignore a positive test because a player had previously tested negative. The agreed-upon protocols need to be followed for players to feel, and be, safe all season long.

In a league like the NBA, where there are more games, this isn't as dire a question. The Sixers' Kyle O'Quinn, for example, missed a game this week because he forgot to take a scheduled COVID-19 test. The Sixers play a lot of basketball (and, to be fair, O'Quinn isn't a particularly important piece of what they're doing) so it wasn't a big deal.

But if Carson Wentz received a false positive on Oct. 30 this year, two days before the Eagles are scheduled to play the Cowboys, and then tested negative twice but still wasn't able to play? That would be a problem, for all involved. How do you avoid that? Can you?

The NFL is scheduled to begin its regular season on Sept. 10. This, among a sea of questions, needs to be answered before kickoff - or else the league shouldn't play.

That is, if it's serious about putting player safety first.

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