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Sills said in an interview with NFL Network that while the league is battling the latest COVID surge, “the overall pattern and concern about transmission, it is not being driven by people who have no idea that they are infected and they are infecting scores of others. This is being driven by people with symptoms and the exposures during that symptomatic period.”
“I think all of our concern about [asymptomatic spread] has been going down based on what we’ve been seeing throughout the past several months,” Sills told ESPN. “We’ve got our hands full with symptomatic people. Can I tell you tonight that there has never been a case when someone without symptoms passed it on to someone else? No, of course I can’t say that. But what I can say to you is that I think it’s a very, very tiny fraction of the overall problem, if it exists at all.”
Sills’ position represents a significant difference from the long-held stance of public health authorities and medical researchers who have warned about the possibility of individuals spreading the virus without being aware they are infected.
In May, Harvard Health Publishing summarized a study from January in which the study’s authors calculated that more than half of all COVID-19 cases were likely spread by someone without symptoms of the disease.
A team of researchers at the University of Chicago also conducted research published in February that concluded that symptomatic transmission of COVID-19 contributed significantly to community spread in New York City during the initial phase of the pandemic.
“We’ve really not seen this phenomenon that people have discussed, which is asymptomatic people in the facility spreading the virus to others,” Sills said, per ESPN. “As we’ve gone back and looked throughout the entire season, what we’ve seen consistently is that when people have symptoms, that’s when they seem to be contagious to others.”
The league said in November that with such a highly vaccinated population, the NFL environment is not comparable “to anywhere else in society.”
But with Sills’ observations based on the data, the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed last week to new COVID protocols that include halting weekly testing on vaccinated players and beginning random testing of a sample across teams and positions.
Vaccinated players who report symptoms are required to be tested, and unvaccinated players continue to be tested daily.
More than 94% of players and nearly 100% of coaches are vaccinated.
A total of 46 players tested positive Thursday, according to ESPN’s Field Yates, bringing the total to 154 this week and more than 300 in the past two weeks.
The new COVID protocols give vaccinated players who test positive several options to test out sooner based on a combination of negative tests and control threshold readings, beginning as quickly as the day after their original positive test. Stills said the changes to the protocols are “all about symptom recognition and prompt testing.”
“Our data has been consistent of that throughout the season, and I think it’s particularly true of this new variant, with omicron, of what we’re seeing,” Stills said.
The league is set to mandate all NFL Tier 1 and Tier 2 staff — including head coaches, assistants and others — to receive a COVID-19 booster shot by Dec. 27 or face considerable restrictions, OutKick previously reported.
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