The NFL Is Ready To Coach The U.S. On How To Handle COVID-19

Although the first COVID-19 vaccine was made available to U.S. citizens in December 2020, there have proven to be some challenges with getting all Americans vaccinated. Currently, nearly 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and about 12% are partially vaccinated, according to Our World in Data. However, the National Football League (NFL) has successfully gotten its players and staff to take the COVID-19 vaccine. According to CNN Health, the NFL has successfully vaccinated more than 90% of its players and staff since the start of the 2021 football season.

The swift spread of the Omicron variant and its high transmissibility prompted the league to create new strategies for addressing how the organization would try to mitigate risks for the organization and its players. Ultimately the league believes they have learned a lot and credits much of their success to implementing stricter protocols that went far beyond the basic requirements of mask-wearing and social distancing. So, what exactly were these protocols?

COVID-19 symptom reporting made the difference

One of the most effective things the NFL focused on was establishing a better system for symptom reporting. Dr. Allen Sills, NFL Chief Medical Officer, told CNN Health, "What we really had to do with Omicron is get more targeted." The NFL also required mandatory booster shots for staff, but not players. While prior protocols focused on periodic COVID-19 tests for vaccinated players, and daily tests for unvaccinated players, new protocols focused on testing anyone with symptoms. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are a wide range of mild to severe symptoms that can appear anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the coronavirus. Thus, the NFL knew symptoms could provide valuable clues and a strong line of defense. Dr. Sills explained to CNN Health, "When we switch to the symptom-based testing, people right away recognize, 'OK, I have one of the symptoms I've heard about. I need to go ahead and get tested.' So, I think it allowed us to quickly identify cases, which is what we wanted to do." 

On top of decreasing the spread of the virus, the new protocols were designed to offer COVID-19 vaccine education to staff and players rather than implement disciplinary actions for the unvaccinated.