When it comes to the NFL’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult to look at the results and not be impressed with how well the league has handled neutralizing the virus since players reported for training camp at the end of July.
After an initial, expected flurry of players being placed on the COVID-19 reserve list —including eight in Detroit — the number of cases/exposures across the league slowed to a trickle by the end of August.
With about 2,500 players still on rosters, there are currently only three players on the reserve list — New Orleans Saints running back Dwayne Washington, Carolina Panthers defensive back Derrek Thomas and Atlanta Falcons defensive end Steven Means.
But despite that steady stream of good news with the regular season kicking off next Thursday, Lions coach Matt Patricia said it’s critical everyone stays diligent with education and protocols.
“I think it’s every day,” Patricia said during a Tuesday morning video call. “It’s just making sure that we don’t get comfortable in those situations and forget how important it is to be safe and to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to stay protected, keep each other healthy, keep our families healthy and keeping your teammates’ families healthy. That’s a constant message for us right now, to make sure that we’re doing all those things because I think you get a little bit of that false security of what’s going on. I think if everyone just continues to stay diligent about it, then hopefully we’ll be in a good position.”
The Lions, like other teams around the league, have made extensive modifications to their practice facility and daily procedures for players and staff to ensure the organization’s collective safety. Speaking to the Detroit Economic Club on Monday, general manager Bob Quinn praised the commitment of ownership in helping make modifications to every room at the facility, while multiple players said they feel safer at work than anywhere else in the world.
Along with daily COVID testing mandated by the league, the team has added Plexiglas dividers throughout the facility, as well as multiple hand-sanitizing stations, created an app to order pre-packaged meals and made adjustments to the weight room, training room and cafeteria to encourage social distancing. Players and staff also wear microchipped devices while at the facility, which offer visual and audio alerts when they’re too close to another person, while logging all proximity data for potential contact tracing in the case of a positive test.
The NFL is hoping to avoid some of the snafus that have struck Major League Baseball since resuming play this year. The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals both had outbreaks resulting in the cancellation of multiple games, while isolated cases in Cincinnati and Oakland also have resulted in postponements in recent days.
Given how much more contact is involved with the game of football, there has been understandable skepticism the league would be able to make it through the 2020 season, but the ability to make it through multiple weeks of training camp, when rosters are larger, is reason for optimism.
Still, Patricia isn’t putting the cart in front of the horse. He knows there will be new challenges once the season starts.
“Yeah, I think for us, my confidence level is real high that we’ll get through training camp,” Patricia said. “I think we’re good there. From that aspect of it, we’ll see what changes (when) the games really take place because there will be some other things involved. We’ll be going to stadiums, we’ll be traveling, we’ll be on buses, we’ll be on planes, we’ll be with teams that are not in our own protocols. I think those are things that everyone is very curious to see how that goes here in the first month of the season.”
The Lions will take another step in their preparations on Wednesday, when the team conducts a practice and game walk-through at Ford Field for the first time this offseason. The team opens the season at home, against the Chicago Bears, on Sept. 13.