With only a few weeks left in the season, the N.F.L. and N.F.L. Players Association dropped extra testing requirements for unvaccinated players.
In a memo sent on Friday to the eight clubs still playing, the league said there was no longer a distinction between vaccinated and unvaccinated players when it comes to testing, and all players and staff that work with them “will be subject to strategic and targeted testing.”
The new rules only affect about a dozen or so players who are unvaccinated or not on a 90-day testing holiday because they had tested positive, according to the league.
The league previously reduced its testing cadence in December, agreeing with the players’ union to only test players when they are considered close contacts or show symptoms. It also mandated that essential staff who interact with players receive booster shots. Asymptomatic vaccinated players can also “test out” of protocols and return to play as soon as 24 hours after a positive test if they are no longer deemed contagious.
Dr. Allen Sills, the N.F.L.’s chief medical officer, said that this week’s changes were prompted by a review of data collected in the past month or so that allowed the league to analyze the impact of the Omicron variant.
Sills said that the number of positive cases for players and staff has plunged in each of the past three weeks, a sign that the threat from the variant is fading. He said vaccinated and unvaccinated players shed the virus in similar ways, and that teams have not seen outbreaks even after players and staff were allowed to return after five days if they did not have any symptoms.
“We wanted to get 30 days of Omicron data under our belt,” Sills said. “We’re clearly seeing the case numbers go down.”
The league said that all players would be subject to “enhanced symptom screening” and any player or staff member who reports symptoms will be tested “promptly” and isolated until the results of their rapid test are received. The league will continue to do “targeted surveillance testing” as well.
Sills pushed back against the notion that by reducing testing frequency the league was trying to avoid learning whether players were infected as a way to keep them on the field for the playoffs.
“It’s not that we’re not looking,” he said. “I think the numbers are going down.”