New NFL COVID protocols, explained: How league’s late-season protocol changes impact vaccinated players

The NFL dealt with its biggest COVID outbreak of the season ahead of Week 15. Several teams — including the Browns, Rams and Washington — saw at least 20 players hit the reserve/COVID list while others dealt with smaller but still important outbreaks among their key players.

The league-wide outbreak caused the NFL to reschedule three games. It also caused the league to review its COVID protocols as it tries to finish the 2021 NFL season.

On Saturday, the NFL confirmed it would, in fact, make changes to its COVID rules. Specifically, the league was looking for a way to make it easier for vaccinated, asymptomatic players to avoid testing and stay on the field, and it appears that they found that.

What are the new rules? Here’s a breakdown of how COVID protocol will work for the rest of the 2021 NFL season.

New NFL COVID rules for vaccinated players

The NFL is making a couple of key changes to its COVID rules for vaccinated players, as it explained in a league memo. The most noteworthy change is the implementation of “targeted testing” for vaccinated individuals.

Vaccinated individuals will no longer have to test for COVID on a weekly basis under the new targeted testing protocols. Instead, they will undergo “strategic spot testing” as determined by the NFL. If a player is found to be COVID positive during these spot checks, then the league’s medical experts will “determine additional mitigation efforts” for the positive test. That could include additional testing.

It is unclear how frequently vaccinated players will be subject to these targeted tests, but they appear to be a pool test of sorts.

That said, there will still be a few ways vaccinated can be tested for COVID as the season goes along. They are as follows:

Vaccinated players had been tested on a weekly basis under the NFL’s previous protocols. This new arrangement will ensure that asymptomatic players will not have to test as frequently while the NFL deals with the Omicron variant.

NFL GAME POSTPONEMENTS: Browns-Raiders | Seahawks-Rams | Eagles-WFT

What is NFL’s COVID protocol for unvaccinated players?

The NFL isn’t making changes to its COVID protocols for unvaccinated players. Those individuals will still have to be tested daily for the virus, as they have been all season. If they test positive, they will still have to remain out and isolated for at least 10 days. They can only return from that 10-day quarantine if they are asymptomatic.

Additionally, unvaccinated players will have to be out for five days if they are deemed a high-risk, close contact to someone who tests positive for the virus. Vaccinated players don’t have to automatically miss time as close contacts; they will just be tested extra under the league’s new protocols.

Below are more details about the NFL’s COVID protocol for unvaccinated players

When is a player considered fully vaccinated?

The NFL has required its Tier 1 and Tier 2 non-player personnel to be vaccinated and get a booster shot to combat COVID, but the rules for players are different. They can still be considered vaccinated without having the booster.

To be fully vaccinated, a player must be either 14 days removed from their final dose of Pfizer, Moderna or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or and are 14 days removed from a single dose of any vaccine if they have previously contracted COVID.

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