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How new CDC guidelines could impact NFL players in COVID protocols

The CDC recommended that anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 should isolate only five days rather than 10. We look at how this could affect the NFL.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looks on prior to the game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 28 update, 5:54 p.m.: The NFL announced new return requirements, which will allow any player to return as soon as five days after a positive test.

Dec 28 update, 3:04 p.m.: The NFL and NFLPA are negotiating to adopt the new CDC guidelines that would reduce the quarantine time to five days from 10 days for all players who test positive but are asymptomatic, per Adam Schefter. This covers both vaccinated and unvaccinated players.

The National Football League has been overrun by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the month of December, as there have been over 400 positive tests, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. In all of the 2021 season, there were 262 player positives. But there may be some relief on the way in the form of shorter quarantine periods for those who test positive.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines for isolation and quarantine periods for the general population for COVID-19.

Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others. The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after.

These new guidelines will more than likely be taken into consideration by the NFL, who already revised their guidelines recently to limit the amount of time vaccinated players who test positive are out. Those new protocols also took into account the Omicron variant, giving players who don’t show symptoms much more leeway in testing, while making it easier to return to the field with a single negative test.

The big change is how this could impact unvaccinated players. The league’s protocols require an unvaccinated player who tests positive quarantine for ten days. This opens the door to the league cutting that in half. As we get into the playoffs, when the NFL very much will want as many star players on the field as possible, it wouldn’t be a stretch to see the league push to lighten the restrictions even more and now they have backing from the CDC.