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As Training Camp Begins, NFL Gets Good News on COVID-19 Testing Front

As the Texans get ready to put on pads later this week, The NFL continues to fine tune its COVID-19 testing.
As the Texans get ready to put on pads later this week, The NFL continues to fine tune its COVID-19 testing.
Photo by Sean Pendergast

I think even the most tunnel-visioned sports fanatics would admit that they knew the return or sports amid a global pandemic was going to be a dicey proposition, with many peaks and valleys. The NBA's bubble in Orlando has been as close to flawless as it gets, with literally three straight weeks of "zero positive tests" reports on all of the tested players. Baseball has been largely clean, with two glaring, season-altering exceptions with COVID outbreaks in the clubhouses of the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals. College football, well, don't get me started.

And then there is the NFL, where in Houston, at least, it's so far, so good. The Texans have had zero players test positive for the coronavirus since training camp has begun, and they've had only one player (backup defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes) opt out of the 2020 season. Say what you will about the Texans' offseason, and my God, have we said a LOT, but Bill O'Brien, Jack Easterby, and the McNair family are managing the virus with great success and keen attention.

It hasn't been all peaches and cream elsewhere around the league, though. Some teams have been hit hard by the virus (Jacksonville had 12 players on the COVID reserve list at one point last week) and opt-outs (the Patriots had a league high eight players opt out of the season). False positive tests were an issue, too, with the most high profile case being Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was put on the COVID reserve list for a couple days last week, before his false positive test was revealed.

That spurred the league to take action and try to fine tune its testing procedures, to where NFL teams will now have "point of care" testing at their facilities. Here is Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio with an explanation of the term and what it could mean to teams:

Point of care is the technical term for testing that can be done without sending the sample to a lab. It’s the key to expediting the process and, eventually, knowing with sufficient certainty that anyone who enters a team facility or a stadium is negative then and there, without waiting for a result from a laboratory.

PFT has learned that point of care testing is a new addition to the broader testing protocol. The specific point of care testing that the NFL is using apparently has a much higher degree of accuracy than the league believed it had, as of just a week or so ago. Then, the league believed point of care testing had accuracy in the range of 80 to 85 percent. Now, the league believes (based on representations from the vendor) that it is 97-percent accurate.

If you're someone whose positive mental and emotional state in the months of September through February is predicated on the existence of NFL football, this is really good news. The ability to get test results back quickly, and not have to ship out samples (with comes with all sorts of possible points of failure), is massive. It's costly, otherwise I'm sure college football would also be doing it (instead, we teeter on the brink of, at best, postponement to the spring for college football), but well worth it for the NFL to protect, at the very least, it's multi-billion dollar TV contracts.

Full disclosure, I am one of ten media members in town that gets to cover training camp with embedded access, and I am receiving my first COVID test this morning over at NRG Stadium. I'm anxious (in a good way) to see how this whole operations works. For now, the NFL is collectively working just as hard, if not harder, on COVID diagnosis and prevention as they are figuring out how to stop Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.

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