Bears confident they’re well-prepared, vaccinated to battle COVID-19

GM Ryan Pace said more than 85% of the roster is vaccinated, and unvaccinated players face steep fines for violating protocol.

SHARE Bears confident they’re well-prepared, vaccinated to battle COVID-19

Allen Robinson declined to say whether he got vaccinated, but indicated he is by doing his press conference without a mask Tuesday.

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The Bears likely will experience some snags this season, but they’re optimistic a corona-virus outbreak won’t be one of them.

General manager Ryan Pace said at least 85% of Bears players are vaccinated, and the NFL is expected to scale back pandemic protocols for teams who hit that number. With players reporting to camp Tuesday and beginning practices Wednesday, there’s little point in continuing to try to persuade the holdouts to get the vaccine.

“We really went through this process and lived by the ‘encourage and educate’ [approach] and try to let them understand the ‘why’ part,” coach Matt Nagy said. “If they understand the ‘why’ part, then it’s their choice. As we all see, everyone has different opinions on what they want to do.”

Nagy stressed that getting vaccinated was the more convenient route, contrasting it with the cumbersome health protocols that unvaccinated players are required to follow.

Quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receiver Allen Robinson and linebacker Roquan Smith spoke to reporters Tuesday, and while none of the three disclosed his vaccination status, they were all maskless at their news conferences. Masks are required at all times inside Halas Hall for unvaccinated players. The fine for violating any coronavirus-related rule is $14,650.

“Everything that everybody went through last year, we were all a little bit inconvenienced,” Nagy said. “With the new rules, if you get vaccinated, it’s different.”

Teams cannot require players to get vaccinated, but in addition to the mask mandate, unvaccinated players will be tested every day, barred from eating meals with teammates and forced to quarantine if they’re a close contact of someone who tests positive for COVID-19. On the road, they can’t go to restaurants or interact with people outside their team organization.

Players involved in an outbreak may incur the biggest penalties. The NFL advised teams last week that if an outbreak among unvaccinated players makes it impossible to play a game and it can’t be rescheduled within the season, the team with the outbreak will forfeit the game. Players for both teams also would forfeit their game checks.

Even with that threat, the vaccine figures to be a divisive topic in the locker room.

“I can’t go into this trying to force guys or incentivize guys to get a vaccine or something like that to play a game for my sole benefit,” said Robinson, who would lose more than $1 million in the aforementioned outbreak scenario. “Unfortunately, that is a risk that everybody takes. Based on how much guys are making or what guys are making, that ramification is a little bit higher.”

The Bears didn’t have any players on the reserve/COVID-19 list for training camp as of Tuesday evening. They had minimal issues with the virus last season and avoided a full-blown outbreak — a credit to Nagy and head athletic trainer Andre Tucker. 

Their biggest scare was in November, when rookie offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons flew with the team for its game against the Titans, then received a positive test result after arriving. Safety Deon Bush also reported after the flight that he had been in close contact with someone who tested positive. Those issues surfaced after offensive tackle Jason Spriggs and then-center Cody Whitehair had already been ruled out because of positive tests the week before, leaving the Bears with a makeshift offensive line in a 24-17 loss.

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