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Cornavirus scare won’t be last in Bears’ ‘year of the contingency plan’

Nine tests taken by players and staff, administered by the Bears and sent to the BioReference laboratory Saturday, came back positive for coronavirus overnight. By 9 a.m. Sunday, the team conducted its own testing and found them to be false positives.

Bears players stretch before Sunday’s practice.
Bears players stretch before Sunday’s practice.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

Bears coach Matt Nagy’s wife nudged him awake at 2:51 a.m. Sunday. She told him his phone was vibrating.

On the other line was Andre Tucker, the Bears’ head trainer and infection-control officer. He gave Nagy news that would shake the franchise for the next six hours but ultimately would prove to be a false alarm.

Nine tests taken by players and staff, administered by the Bears and sent to the BioReference laboratory Saturday, came back positive for coronavirus overnight. By 9 a.m. Sunday, however, the team conducted its own testing and found them to be false positives.

The Bears weren’t alone. The NFL said multiple players from at least 10 teams were found to have tested positive by BioReference’s lab in New Jersey. Other labs, the league said, had not produced similar anomalies. Monday, BioReference said in a statement that the positive results have since been confirmed negative, and blamed an “isolated contamination” for the mistake.

Consider that, as of Saturday night, only four players in the entire league were on the reserve/COVID-19 list. The New Jersey lab, by contrast, produced several positive results for every team it reviewed, the NFL said.

The Bears administer daily nasal-swab tests to their players inside a trailer in the Halas Hall parking lot. The tests are shipped out and returned in less than 24 hours. In rare cases, such as Sunday, the team administers rapid-response tests that take less than a half-hour to produce results.

The nine who tested positive overnight — Nagy wouldn’t break down how many were players, as opposed to staff — reported to Halas Hall and took rapid-response tests. All nine tested negative.

The Bears’ scary morning probably won’t be their last.

As the NFL barrels toward opening day less than three weeks away, an infection — or at least a scare — looms on the horizon. While the NFL has produced few positive tests since the beginning of camp, that figures to change once teams begin traveling for games — the way it did at the start of the baseball season.

Nagy has tried to be prepared. It turns out Sunday was a dry run.

‘‘This is definitely the year of the contingency plan,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘You have to have what-ifs and backups, really, in everything you do, whether it’s positions or whether it’s scenarios of what could happen.’’

Even on game days.

‘‘You could get into this situation with players that all the sudden you don’t have going into a Saturday or Sunday game,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘It can happen with coaches.’’

For a few hours, it felt as though it already had happened.

Last month, three players — nose tackle John Jenkins, tight end Eric Saubert and running back Artavis Pierce — were put on the reserve/COVID-19 list and quickly taken off it. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman and safety Jordan Lucas decided to opt out of the season because of the coronavirus. Otherwise, Nagy’s push for coronavirus safety had been rewarded with an uneventful camp.

Until Sunday.

‘‘We’re so proud of the way we’ve done things here, my initial five-second gut reaction when I was told [of the positive tests] was just sheer disappointment, frustration,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘And, you know, it’s just hard when you hear that because everyone’s doing such a great job of doing everything that we possibly can in our control to prevent something like this. So when you hear this, you initially think, ‘Wow. What’s next?’ ’’

The Bears will point to their procedures Sunday as a sign their protocols work. Nagy’s contingency planning began with a call to general manager Ryan Pace. They made sure their players and staffers didn’t drive to Halas Hall until the re-tests were completed. Nagy then called top players and coordinators, who filtered the information to teammates and assistants. The Bears postponed their 9:20 a.m. practice until later in the day and used contact-tracing software to see who had interacted with the people who tested positive.

At 8:15 a.m., media members arriving at Halas Hall for practice were turned away — with little explanation — by security. By 9, though, Nagy knew the tests were false positives. He held a 15-minute Zoom call with 140 players, coaches and staffers to plan out the rest of the day.

The Bears held a short practice at 1:30 p.m. and declined to make players — or Tucker — available to the media afterward. That left Nagy to explain the Bears’ harrowing day and to praise his players for handling the scare.

‘‘Inevitably, when something like this goes down, you’re going to ask questions,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘That’s human nature. They want to know the ‘why’ part.

‘‘So it’s easy for us to be able to tell them: ‘Hey, this is what we know. We’ve never been through this before, but I promise you this: You will get every bit of honesty and care as to how we tackle this thing, and if you trust us and you realize that we will never put you or your family in harm’s way, then let’s go practice.’ ’’