How the NFL is tackling covid-19 and leading the USA by example

With a more than impressive vaccine drive, the league has presented a viable way out of the pandemic.

How the NFL is tackling covid-19 and leading the USA by example
Mike Ehrmann AFP

As the pandemic continues to wear on and debate surrounding the vaccines heats up, we can forgive those amongst us who may have doubts as to whether or not we will ever turn the corner. Yet as surprising as it may seem the NFL might just have the answer.

NFL's Chief Medical Officer has his say

With their impressive numbers, The NFL's covid-19 vaccination rates provide a "unique opportunity" to present a viable solution to the pandemic for the general populace.

According to NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills in an interview with ESPN, "We know we are going to have positive cases this season. I don't think 'COVID zero' is an attainable goal, and we all need to understand that. What we think we can do is keep our team environments as safe as possible, avoid widespread outbreaks and, with vaccinations in place, convert this into a seasonal illness as opposed to a devastating pandemic."

To date 93.5% of NFL players and more than 99% of other football-related staff members are at least partially vaccinated. Unvaccinated players are required to take daily tests while also being asked to follow a series of additional protocols. This is not to say there are any exceptions, fully vaccinated players are still subjected to once a week testing alongside daily testing for all other players. All of this in an effort to reduce the possibility of vaccinated players spreading the virus to each other, which incidentally when asked, Sills stated that such occurences are "incredibly rare."

Looking towards the 2021/22 Regular Season

Having managed to play all of their 2020 games more or less on schedule, the NFL - in Sills' opinion - can achieve a similar goal in it's 2021 edition. In accordance with established protocols positive tests will once again result in the unavailability of individual players and staff members. The league, however, expects that any resulting sickness will be mild. Moreover, they have already observed evidence the possibility of full-scale outbreaks among teams will be significantly reduced.

The Situation as it is

At present, the NFL has not registered a single case of outdoor spread or during games. Though the delta variant displays an increased transmissibility, Sills believes the facts speak for themselves. The NFL's covid-19 incidence rate - the number of positive tests relative to the full testing pool - has stayed at approximately 1% of the 6,000 people who make up the NFL testing pool. Fully vaccinated players who test positive can return to the field more quickly, needing only to return two negative tests 24 hours apart.

Sills also made it clear that some vaccinated players have been cleared in a matter of days, This is largely due to the fact that the league's MESA tests have detected exposure rather than infection. Others have returned closer to the end of the 10-day cycle, and a handful needed longer.

"Vaccines were designed to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death," Sills said, "and they're doing a terrific job both inside and outside the NFL. What vaccines ideally do is convert more serious illnesses to more mild illnesses, and we're definitely seeing that as well. We're seeing people with no symptoms or very few symptoms and have a short duration of illness. I don't look at that as a vaccine failure. I look at that as a vaccine's success, that we're able to convert this into a mild respiratory illness."