CBS Chicago: NFL Pulled Off Season With No Games Canceled During The COVID-19 Pandemic — What Lessons Can We Learn?

Feb 08, 2021

Super Bowl LV is in the books, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have won – and with that, the most challenging season is over.

Despite the pandemic, not a single game in the most physical sport of football had to be canceled. So what can we all learn?

As CBS 2’s Jim Williams reported, the NFL pulled off its season amid the pandemic with a million COVID tests, contact tracing, and cooperative players who did their part to stop the spread.

It may come as a surprise that football could be made safe – with those collisions and all that spitting and face-to-face activity.

“There were many skeptics at the beginning of the season, myself included, didn’t know how they pull it off,” said Dr. Robert Citronberg of Advocate Aurora Health. “But what they did successfully is they applied science.”

The league tested players and staff for the coronavirus daily during the regular season, except game day. If someone tested positive, they needed to find out whom they’d been around – what’s called contact tracing.

“People’s memories are terrible when you go back and you say: ‘Well, who were you around? How close were you standing together?’” said NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills.

And so to take out the guess work, everyone in an NFL facility – from superstars like Khalil Mack to those who prepared food – had to wear a tracker.

“The device registered two individuals who were with six feet of each other,” said NFL advisor Dr. Christina Mack. “It also recorded how often they were together and for how long.”

“Anybody who was exposed even for less than 15 minutes was immediately quarantine to make sure that there was no spread outside of the immediate people involved,” Citronberg said.

But doctors insist high-tech prevention is not nearly enough. Players and staffers did we’ve done – mask up, attend virtual meetings, reduce the number of people in the weight room, and even avoid riding to work together.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between Aug. 9 and Nov. 21, 329 NFL COVID tests did come back positive – and some games had to postponed for a few days.

Still, after the NFL’s million coronavirus tests altogether, the league says its positivity rate was 0.08 percent – far below the country at large.

NFL doctors ultimately credit the players.

“They took it to heart and they did it and they deserve props for doing it,” said Dr. Anthony Casolaro of the NFL Physicians Society. “The average age of 25 in our league – that’s the highest transmission group in the country.”

There are lessons in this for the rest of us, Dr. Citronberg said.

“We can still do the things that we want to do, and that we enjoy doing, with the proper precautions – and they can be done safely,” he said.

The doctors say the league was helped because most of the games were outdoors.

And early on, team doctors met with players and their families, asking that they all work together to keep everyone safe.