NFL suspends all COVID protocols, cites ‘encouraging trends’

Houston Texans running back Rex Burkhead (28) celebrates after running for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Houston. (Eric Christian Smith, AP Photo)

The NFL has suspended all aspects of its COVID-19 protocols, citing recent trends showing that the spread of the coronavirus is declining.

In an agreement with the players' association, the league sent a memo to the 32 teams Thursday in which it mentioned “encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity of COVID-19, the evolving guidance from the CDC, changes to state law and the counsel of our respective experts” as reasons for the move.

Should the NFL find reasons to reimpose any aspects of the protocols, it will do so in conjunction with the NFL Players Association.

Teams are required to remain in compliance with state and local laws and may continue “reasonable measures to protect their staff and players,” said the memo obtained by The Associated Press.

Regardless of vaccination status, players and staff no longer must wear face coverings at team facilities, though each club can require it individually. Social distancing signs no longer are required as well.

The league eliminated mandatory testing of players and staff, regardless of vaccination status. Testing will occur only when clinically indicated or at the direction of a team physician.

But each team must have a facility to accommodate anyone who reports symptoms that require testing.

Weight room restrictions, including capacity limits, have been dropped, though each team can impose its own rules for weight room usage.

Contact tracing devices have not been required since Jan. 3, and the service is being discontinued.

The league is encouraging everyone to continue monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19 on a daily basis before entering the team facility. Any individual who tests positive must isolate for five days after the positive test.

No NFL games were canceled during the past two seasons because of the pandemic, though many were moved during the 2020 schedule. About 95% of the players and nearly 100% of team personnel were vaccinated, the league reported.

The NHL previously dropped virus testing for individuals without symptoms and other distancing protocols. MLB has not made any moves due to the lockout of players and no new collective bargaining agreement. The NBA hasn't altered protocols; Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash and Phoenix Suns All-Star player Devin Booker both were placed in health and safety protocols this week.

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AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno, AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum and AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

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