Dec. 17, 2021 -- With an increasing number of players testing positive for COVID-19, the National Football League has changed its health and safety protocols in negotiation with the NFL Players Association.

Effective immediately, mandatory mask-wearing in all team facilities is back, along with social distancing, grab-and-go meals in team cafeterias, virtual meetings, and limits on how many people can be in the weight room at once, ESPN reported.

The NFL will make it easier for fully vaccinated players who test positive for COVID-19 but who do not have symptoms to return to play, ESPN said.

Previous rules said a player who tests positive had to have two negative tests 24 hours apart. The new rules say a vaccinated player may be able to return after one negative test, which could occur on a game day.

Teams already in “intensive protocols” because of recent outbreaks will continue daily testing, whether the employees are vaccinated or not. On other teams, vaccinated players will test weekly, and unvaccinated players will test daily. Booster shots will be encouraged for players but not required.

The NFL Players Association wants to see all players tested daily, ESPN reported.

"The NFL decided to take away a critical weapon in our fight against the transmission of COVID-19 despite our union's call for daily testing months ago," the NFL Players Association said. "We're talking to our player leadership and to the NFL about potential changes to the protocols so that we can complete the season."

"All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community," the league said in a statement issued to reported Wednesday that 100 players had tested positive over a three-day period, a record number for the season. Most were asymptomatic, and the rest had mild symptoms.

The COVID wave is hitting the league at a critical time. The playoffs are scheduled to begin in one month.

"We're entering a new phase of the pandemic, different than we've seen before," said the NFL's chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills. "We can't apply 2020 solutions to the 2021 problems we're having."

Show Sources

ESPN: “NFL's new COVID-19 rules include changes to return-to-play protocols, return of intensive restrictions.” “NFLPA again pushes NFL to reinstitute daily testing for COVID-19.”

NFL: “NFL updates COVID-19 protocols to allow for quicker return from quarantine for vaccinated individuals.” “NFL reexamining COVID-19 protocols after sudden wave of positive cases late in 2021 season.”

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