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How will the NFL handle a game-day positive COVID-19 test?

After the Pittsburgh Pirates had their weekend series canceled due to a positive test by an opposing player, does the NFL have a plan should the situation arise?

Indianapolis Colts v Pittsburgh Steelers

The NFL has been pushing forward through training camp in hopes of holding the 2020 NFL season amid the current global pandemic. While positivity rates associated with the NFL’s daily testing have been encouraging, teams have yet to travel and face off against other teams which will undoubtedly increase the risks. As Major League Baseball has seen, it is difficult to keep players from being exposed to COVID-19 outside of a bubble. One case in particular is the Pittsburgh Pirates who had the final two games scheduled this weekend against the Cincinnati Reds postponed due to a player from Cincinnati having a positive test.

How the pirates will make up these games is uncertain at this time, although there is a possibility of a doubleheader on Monday or extra games when these two teams face off later in the season. Unfortunately, this is not a model which can be copied by the NFL.

With teams only playing 16 games in a season and only one game a week, there isn’t an opportunity for make ups in the NFL. The last time a regular season game was postponed was Week 1 of 2017 when Hurricane Irma caused the game between the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved to November. Luckily, both teams had the same bye week and the game was rescheduled then. If not, the NFL may have looked to relocate the game during Week 1. Heinz Field may have even been considered as the Steelers opened up on the road (as usual) in Cleveland in 2017. Regardless, the NFL was going to make sure the game was played one way or another.

With postponement not being a simple solution, the NFL will need to have a plan of attack for the 2020 season. So what is the NFL’s plan?

As of right now, they’re still working on it.

In an article earlier this week from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler which outlined the adjustment by the NFL to test players daily through September 5, he reported the NFL is still working on their game day protocols when it comes to positive tests in the days leading up to a contest.

One hurdle remaining is how to handle potential outbreaks days before a game. The NFL is still working through such game-day protocols.

It looks to be a slippery slope NFL will have to navigate when it comes to positive tests in the days leading up to each NFL game. Every player is equipped with a proximity recording device which will allow the NFL to see who all has come in close proximity to someone who has tested positive. With the requirements of going on the Reserve/COVID-19 List being a player who has tested positive OR have been in close contact with someone who has a positive COVID-19 test. In other words, any player who has been in close contact with a teammate who has tested positive should end up on the list.

Will the NFL proceed like MLB and shut down games if a player on one of the teams tests positive on game day? Will they rely on their proximity devices to see if enough of the team has been exposed? Will they postpone games to the end of the season and push back the playoffs?

There are many possibilities, but none seem to be an easy solution. With the NFL’s first game coming in less than four weeks on Thursday, September 10 as the Houston Texans visit the Kansas City Chiefs, hopefully the NFL can have a contingency plan by then in order to proceed with holding the 2020 season.