COVID-19 and NFL

By Matthew Panzarella, MD


As more and more sports teams take the field this spring, what is the best way to keep athletes safe from the COVID-19 virus? The CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the NFL (National Football League) teamed up this past season to track data from the NFL teams to begin to determine that answer. At the end of January 2021 they published their findings.

The NFL/CDC study recognized that players could contract COVID-19 with exposure to a positive person in less than 15 min. As they tried to reduce the spread of the virus from the beginning of the season to the end, they found that any indoor unmasked interactions were high risk. Thus, it was recommended that all meetings take place virtually, no one participates in group meals (all meals were in a grab and go format,) and players do not share rides in vehicles together. Locker room use was strongly discouraged and limited to small groups if use occurred. Players and staff were required to use masks or face shields during practice. 

Note that player contact of greater than 15 minutes with while properly wearing masks in well ventilated settings (outdoors) was not considered high risk. 

"In the NFL, COVID-19 transmission was identified in persons with <15 minutes of consecutive or cumulative interaction and was reduced through implementation of an intensive protocol focused on environmental change, increased personal protection, avoidance of high-risk interactions such as vehicle sharing, eating in the same room or common areas[1].”

How does this translate for our local high school and college teams? The bottom line is that masks work (when worn properly to cover both the nose and mouth tightly) and players should be wearing them all the time. Team meetings should be outdoors and masked or virtual. Athletes should not eat together or carpool. Let’s keep up the hard work of preventing COVID-19 transmission for the spring season and hope that the fall may bring normalcy.

[1] Mack CD, Wasserman EB, Perrine CG, et al. Implementation and Evolution of Mitigation Measures, Testing, and Contact Tracing in the National Football League, August 9–November 21, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2021;70:130–135