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Increase in COVID-19 cases prompts NFL to update protocols

The league is pushing booster shots as the most effective protection against the coronavirus.

Coach Matt Nagy has to deal with an outbreak of positive coronavirus tests among his players and coaches.
Coach Matt Nagy has to deal with an outbreak of positive coronavirus tests among his players and coaches.
Aaron Gash/AP

The NFL has updated its protocols in reaction to an increase in COVID-19 cases around the league, and it is pushing booster shots as the most effective protection against the coronavirus.

As part of its protocol changes, the NFL is requiring masks regardless of vaccination status and remote or outdoor meetings. It also is stopping in-person meals, and prohibiting outside visitors while on team travel.

“Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19,” the league said in its statement. “All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our No. 1 goal for the entire NFL community.”

The Bears were missing all three of their coordinators because of COVID-19 protocols as they prepared Thursday for Monday night’s home game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Bears coach Matt Nagy said offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, defensive coordinator Sean Desai and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor were participating remotely in meetings this week. Their status for the game is uncertain.

COVID-19 has hit the Bears hard this week, one of many teams experiencing positive tests. Approximately 100 players across the 32 teams have tested positive.

Chicago put five players on the COVID-19 reserve list since Monday and have 12 on it overall. And now the coordinators are in the protocol.

Nagy missed a game earlier this year against San Francisco, a 33-22 loss, because of COVID-19 issues, and Tabor coached the Bears.

Washington placed three more players on the COVID-19 list Thursday, following eight Wednesday. The team total is 21, including two players on injured reserve and two on the practice squad. Safety Sam Curl was the only starter added to the list, and was joined by centers Keith Ismael and Tyler Larsen.

Curl joins fellow defensive starters in lineman Jon Allen and cornerback Kendall Fuller on the list. Washington could be down to its fifth option at center because of coronavirus and injury problems.

Also:

—Seattle might be without one of its stars, receiver Tyler Lockett, who was put on the COVID-19 list Thursday along with running back Alex Collins. The Seahawks had no players test positive in the 2020 season, but have had three this year: Tight end Gerald Everett was the other in September.

Lockett has a team-high 62 receptions for 1,023 yards and six touchdowns. Last week Lockett became the second player in franchise history with three straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving, joining Hall of Famer Steve Largent.

Lockett had five catches for 142 yards and a touchdown last week against Houston and is 35 yards short of setting a career high for a season.

Collins has served as a starter for most of this season after Chris Carson was lost to a season-ending neck injury in Week 4. But Collins has played through several ailments.

—Cleveland tight end David Njoku was activated from the COVID-19 list, adding a playmaker heading into Saturday’s game against Las Vegas. On Wednesday, the virus shelved coach Kevin Stefanski and quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose status for this week remains in question. The Browns had 17 players, including 10 starters, on the COVID-19 list and are placing safety Ronnie Harrison there. Starting safety James Johnson III and nickel back Troy Hill both tested positive on Wednesday and rookie cornerback Greg Newsome II has been ruled out with a concussion.

—Saints coach Sean Payton returned to practice on Thursday after staying home on Wednesday, when the team said the coach was “under the weather,” but had tested negative for COVID-19.

Payton had participated in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday morning without mentioning he’d be missing practice later that day. The Saints said Payton worked from home and participated in meetings via videoconference on Wednesday before returning to team headquarters on Thursday.

—Miami rookie receiver Jaylen Waddle’s sensational season could be on hold. Waddle has been placed in the coronavirus protocol. The sixth overall draft pick already set a franchise record for receptions by a rookie with 86. He has 849 yards receiving and four touchdowns.

The Dolphins host the Jets on Sunday.