Bears send players home, brace for fallout after positive coronavirus test

The Bears canceled Thursday’s practice after their second positive test in three days.

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Bears center Cody Whitehair tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a report from NFL Network.

Bears center Cody Whitehair tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a report from NFL Network.

Brian Westerholt/AP

After center Cody Whitehair tested positive Thursday morning, the Bears sent players home — and gave Halas Hall a deep clean — amid concerns about a potential coronavirus outbreak.

The Bears then sent another Whitehair sample to the NFL’s laboratory. Coach Matt Nagy, who wouldn’t confirm Whitehair by name, said he expected to receive results of the test Thursday night or early Friday morning.

If Whitehair proves to have the coronavirus, the Bears are prepared to scramble to be ready for the game Sunday against the Titans. While the injured Whitehair hasn’t practiced in almost two weeks, anyone he spent extended time with — considered “high-risk close contacts” — would have to quarantine for five days and miss the Titans game, according to NFL rules.

Nagy wouldn’t say how many close contacts the team identified Thursday — other than he wasn’t one of them.

Given the center’s job, chief among any close contact concerns would be quarterback. The Bears are already down to two players after Mitch Trubisky visited doctors to discuss his injured right shoulder. Nagy was relaxed enough about the position to joke that he has a coaching staff filled with former quarterbacks if the Bears needed help. There isn’t enough time to bring a quarterback in as a free agent by Sunday. And Nagy said that if the Bears did, he wouldn’t know the offense.

“So timeline-wise,” he said, “I don’t see anything like that happening.”

Barring any drastic development, the game will go on as planned. Since Oct. 21, 21 NFL teams have put at least one player on the reserve/COVID-19 list for a positive test. The league has not moved any of their games.

The NFL would only move a game later in the week — to Monday or even Tuesday — or later in the season if there was a potential for widespread transmission that would make the game a threat to the players, staff and public. Medical directors from the NFL and the NFLPA make that call.

The Bears have been under the NFL’s intensive protocol — which requires players to pass a coronavirus test in order to be admitted to the team facility, where they then face enhanced restrictions — off and on all year. They moved into the protocol this week when Jason Spriggs, who was slated to start at right tackle with Bobby Massie on injured reserve, was put on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday. Right guard Germain Ifedi was listed as a high-risk close contact, but he could return from quarantine Saturday and play Sunday.

As part of the protocol, the Bears hold team meetings inside the spacious Walter Payton Center but conduct position meetings via Zoom. They practiced Wednesday. Whitehair didn’t participate but stood on the sideline and talked to teammates and staff.

Nagy found out about the positive test early Thursday and made the decision to send everyone home around 8 a.m. Around that time, two Bears coordinators met with the media from Halas Hall via Zoom. Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s phone rang during his interview, and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano abruptly left after about six minutes of questions.

The Bears have had minimal issues with coronavirus spread compared to other teams. The Titans had the worst outbreak in the NFL with 23 players and staff members testing positive and multiple games being rescheduled.

“It was something that we had to stick together through,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said this week, “and be ready for when things did get back going.”

The Bears believe they won’t be in the same boat. Late Thursday, they said the NFL cleared them to return to practice Friday at Halas Hall — under the league’s protocol.

“We told the younger guys, some of the practice-squad guys, we’ve been telling them all year long, this is one of those years you better be ready,” Nagy said.

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