NFL to investigate rash of positive COVID-19 test results all linked to New Jersey lab

The NFL announced Sunday morning that it is investigating a rash of positive COVID-19 test results that all came from a lab in New Jersey as training camps push toward the season opener less than three weeks away.

"​Saturday's daily COVID testing returned several positives tests from each of the clubs serviced by the same laboratory in New Jersey," the NFL said in a statement. "We are working with our testing partner, BioReference, to investigate these results, while the clubs work to confirm or rule out the positive tests. Clubs are taking immediate precautionary measures as outlined in the NFL-NFLPA's health and safety protocols to include contact tracing, isolation of individuals and temporarily adjusting the schedule, where appropriate. The other laboratories used for NFL testing have not had similar results."

Bills general manager Brandon Beane said he thought there were 10 or 11 teams affected by the irregularities.

Though it is unclear which teams submit their testing samples to the New Jersey lab, at least six – the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, Bills, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and Minnesota Vikings – have altered their plans for Sunday.

The Chicago Bears pushed their Sunday morning practice to the afternoon after they confirmed that their nine positive COVID-19 results were all false positives. (Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski, USA TODAY Sports)

Cleveland said in a statement that "COVID-19 testing process conducted yesterday initially indicates multiple individual presumptive positive cases that include players, coaches and support staff."

The Browns said "out of an abundance of caution" they will follow their Infectious Disease Emergency Response plan, which pauses operations inside the team's Berea, Ohio, facility and pushes meetings to be held virtually. The Browns said they are also following the plan's protocols for contact tracing and self-isolation, even though all those who returned positive results remain asymptomatic. 

The Browns facility is also being disinfected in a deep-cleaning process, the team said.

The Bears, meanwhile, pushed their Sunday morning practice to the afternoon after they confirmed that their nine positive results were all false positives.

"This morning we learned yesterday's Covid-19 testing identified nine players/staff as positive," the Bears said in a statement. "We followed additional NFL-NFLPA testing protocol and confirmed all nine results as false positives. Out of an abundance of caution, we postponed this morning's practice to this afternoon at 1:30 p.m."

Pittsburgh said it had six players absent from Saturday's practice, but that "none of those players were required to be placed on Reserve/COVID-19" and would return to meetings Sunday and practice Monday.

Jets head coach Adam Gase said the team canceled a walk-through Saturday night after they concluded they received 10 false positive results. New York returned to practice Sunday morning.

The Vikings canceled practice after eight players, one coach and three staffers came back with positive results.

Beane said the team will be without a few players in practice, due to the irregularities with the testing.

“We're just trying to be very cautious,” Beane said. “We've been open with our team. The league jumped on this early to let us know that it wasn't just our team, it's a lot of teams. I think some went and canceled the day. We did talk about that at one point, but as we got more information we felt like it was more of a lab issue and not a true issue with our guys currently.”

Before Sunday morning, only four players were on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list, though Sunday's potential rash of positive or false positive results could alter that. Players who are suspected to have been infected or who have come into close contact with those infected are placed on the list and not allowed to resume team activities until medically cleared.

Players, coaches and many support staff are tested every day through the end of August, in accordance with an agreement reached between the league and the NFL Players Association. Quick and reliable testing is essential for the NFL, which is not playing its 2020 season inside a bubble, like that of the NBA and NHL. So far throughout training camp, NFL teams have avoided outbreaks and have effectively used testing and self-isolation protocols to mitigate the spread.

The NFL Kickoff Game between the Houston Texans and Kansas City Chiefs is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 10.

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