The NFL will play another season during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with the vaccines available to fight the disease, the league’s protocols for fighting the virus have changed.
The NFL does not require its players to be vaccinated. However, it is adjusting its COVID protocols to make it a bit easier for vaccinated players.
Heading into the 2021 NFL season, the league’s COVID protocols for unvaccinated players remain largely the same as in 2020. Vaccinated players still have to deal with the protocols, but only if they test positive for the virus. .
Below is everything you need to know about the NFL’s COVID protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated players and how it could affect the 2021 NFL season.
MORE: Complete NFL Schedule for 2021 Season
NFL COVID Vaccine Rules
Here’s the NFL’s COVID protocol for vaccinated players, according to the NFL:
- Vaccinated individuals who test positive and have no symptoms will be isolated and contact tracing will occur immediately.
- The positive person will be allowed to return to duty after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
- After that, they will be evaluated weekly or as directed by medical staff.
- Vaccinated people will not be subject to quarantine as a result of close contact with an infected person.
The main difference between vaccinated and unvaccinated players is that vaccinated players don’t have to worry about being a “high risk” close contact at any time. They also have more freedom to participate in activities than their unvaccinated counterparts. Vaccinated players can hit the road and spend more time with their teammates off-site, among other benefits.
What is the NFL’s COVID protocol for unvaccinated players?
The NFL’s COVID protocols are stricter than those for vaccinated players. They are as follows, according to the NFL:
- If an unvaccinated person tests positive, the 2020 protocols will remain in effect. The person will be isolated for a period of 10 days and then allowed to return to the service if they are asymptomatic.
- Unvaccinated individuals will continue to be subject to a five-day quarantine period if they have close contact with an infected person.
Unvaccinated players also have more procedures to follow to avoid falling into the COVID protocol. They include the following:
- Unvaccinated individuals should be tested for COVID every day at the team’s facility. If a player misses even one day of testing, they will be required to test negative for COVID for five days in a row before re-entering the facility. That’s what happened to Cam Newton before the Patriots’ final week of preseason.
- Unvaccinated free agents must also test negative for five consecutive days before they are allowed to enter the team premises.
- Unvaccinated players must wear masks at all times on the premises. They cannot meet in groups of more than three players and on the way “they are prohibited from meeting, visiting or mingling with people outside of the traveling party once they have reached the game city.”
- Unvaccinated individuals are subject to fines if they violate COVID protocols. This can include anything from not wearing a mask on the premises or going to an indoor concert or party in a house with more than 15 people.
When is a player considered fully vaccinated?
The NFL considers a player to be fully vaccinated if they fall into one of the following two categories. They have 14 days removed from their final dose of Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine or previously contracted COVID and 14 days removed from a single dose of any vaccine.
Will the NFL postpone games due to COVID?
The NFL has left the door open for possible postponements. That said, the league has said that “postponements will only occur if required by government authorities, medical experts, or at the discretion of the Commissioner.”
Of course, the NFL has also said it expects to play its entire 272-game schedule “in a safe and responsible manner,” so it seems likely the league will consider postponements when appropriate.
However, the NFL has noted that the burden of postponements or cancellations will fall on teams with spikes of COVID among unvaccinated players. If outbreaks occur among vaccinated players, the league will seek to “minimize the burden” on that club.
If a game is canceled / postponed because a club is unable to play due to a Covid spike among its unvaccinated players / staff or as a result, the burden of cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the Covid infection . We will try to minimize the burden on the opposing club (s). If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated people, we will try to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.
What does that mean? Well, if a team has an outbreak that affects unvaccinated players, they are less likely to get a favorable decision from the NFL. Therefore, they may be forced to play with a significant number of reduced staff or at a less convenient time.
The NFL has also stated that if a game cannot be rescheduled within its 18-week season due to a COVID outbreak amid unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will be forced to resign.
Additionally, the league said “games will not be postponed or rescheduled simply to avoid roster problems caused by injuries or illnesses affecting multiple players, even within a position group.” That principle was at work last year, and the Broncos were the best example of it in action. They had to play practice squad catcher Kendall Hinton as their quarterback after his quarterback was exposed to the virus.
Will the NFL add one more week due to COVID postponements?
No, they don’t plan it. The NFL confirmed that they hope not to extend the regular season beyond 18 weeks (17 games and a break).
We do not anticipate adding a “19 week” to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season.
The NFL may change its tune if COVID becomes a bigger problem than the league anticipates, but for now, don’t expect the league to add another week to the season.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.