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NFL and players’ union agree on 2021 COVID protocols

The league and its players union have now agreed on how to best allow the season to move forward.

Kansas City Chiefs v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic began a year ago last spring, the National Football League and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) have been involved in near-continuous negotiations regarding how the league should handle issues related to COVID-19.

On Monday, those talks resulted in a new agreement regarding COVID protocols for its players and coaches, which will impact the Kansas City Chiefs (and the rest of the league’s teams) through the coming season.

In a series of tweets, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported the most significant details of the new deal between the league and its players’ union.

One of the main changes is that vaccinated players and staff will now undergo COVID testing every week rather than every two weeks. An optional second weekly test is also available to vaccinated persons — and those who live with individuals whose exposure to the virus is considered high-risk may also opt to be tested daily.

Meanwhile, all unvaccinated (and partially vaccinated) players will continue to be tested daily. They will be prohibited from entering the team facility (or interacting with other individuals) until their test results for that day are known to be negative.

As a practical matter, this means that those tested daily may not travel — except to and from road games.

The new agreement allows for antibody testing to be used as a part of determining whether an individual can be considered fully vaccinated — but even then, they will still be required to have at least one dose of an approved vaccine. This will allow those with COVID antibodies to reach fully vaccinated status more quickly.

The new agreement requires that even fully-vaccinated medical and equipment staff — along with strength and conditioning coaches — must wear face masks while directly interacting with players while indoors. This will not be required when outdoors.

Likewise, unvaccinated (and partially vaccinated) players will not be required to wear face coverings during outdoor practices and walkthroughs — including those inside practice bubbles — although they will continue to be required to wear masks in all indoor settings.

However, during team travel, all individuals — whether vaccinated or not — will be required to wear masks. In addition, traveling parties may not include more than 75 non-players. Public transportation may not be used, while private transportation (such as taxis and Ubers) will be allowed only for fully vaccinated players and coaches.

This means that unvaccinated individuals will essentially be unable to leave the team hotel during road trips except for traveling with the team to and from the game.

As before, fully-vaccinated individuals will not be designated as high-risk close contacts — although they can be subjected to daily testing (and masking) for a period of five days. In practice, this will mean that only unvaccinated persons could miss games without having a positive COVID test.

As has been the case throughout this period, these protocols are subject to revision as the situation changes.