ProFootballDoc: Daily Testing Is Good First Step, But It Is Not Enough

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The NFL just popped its first false positive.

Earlier today, the league announced an agreement with the players to begin daily CoronaVirus testing in order to start training camp. That certainly is good news — and what the NFLPA wanted — but it is not enough.

Even daily testing cannot keep all players and coaches 100% safe. There is a known rate of inaccuracies. Social distancing inside the facility will still be as needed as ever because it is possible that players get administered today’s test before they get yesterday’s results with the 24 hour test turnaround.

We have previously discussed how the risk at home is greater than that with the team and players/coaches will have to be diligent all season to keep each other safer. Using my previous “sunburn” analogy, testing positive is like finding out you have “turned red from the sun”, the sunburn is already started. Even with the best testing, it can’t be perfect and the delay is an issue. I am aware of 10 minute testing results which would improve the situation that is awaiting final FDA clearance.

To show how important the issue of false negatives is, the NFL requires two negative tests before allowing anyone into a team building. 

The key is to keep it that way.

I fully expect 150-200 positive tests as players and coaches return. Do not be shocked by this. This would be similar to the percentages found at initial testing with other professional sports leagues. The key is to keep it close to zero. So far the NBA has done that but remember, they have a “bubble”.

This is why I repeat, daily tests are not enough. The players need to do their part away from the facility.

The daily tests are only for the first two weeks. If the tests drop below 5%, then testing reverts to every other day. I cannot imagine a scenario where the NFL would not be able to go to reduced testing because if the repeat numbers after two weeks are anywhere near 5%, the league should and will be shut down.

It is good to see that both sides have moved on to cooperation and didn’t continue to air dirty laundry on social media. 

The reporting dates may remain on or close to on time with small delays but 
there will be significant delays to the start of practice. With 24-hour turnaround and the need for two negative tests that is already at least 48 hours. There needs to be education of in facility protocols, entry physicals and outfitting guys as well as waiting for some key players to clear with the inevitable positives. I anticipate up to a week’s delay to get to real practices.

This makes the NFL desire of playing two preseason games moot. Indeed the NFL seems to have compromised.  At most, there will be one preseason game: Week 3. In the end, the delays may give the players their wish. My guess is teams would do a split squad “scrimmage” at the stadium for their COVID protocol game day dry run.

At least the focus is finally shifting towards football. 

Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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