July 26, 2021 -- The NFL announced Thursday that the 2021 season won’t be extended to accommodate game cancellations if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs among unvaccinated players or staff.

Several media outlets also reported Sunday that any unvaccinated NFL player who violated COVID-19 protocols, including mask-wearing, would be fined $14,650

The new policy was announced in a memo sent to all 32 teams. If a game can’t be rescheduled during the regular 18-week season, the team with the outbreak will forfeit the game and receive a “loss” in standings, according to NFL.com.

“We do not anticipate adding a ‘19th week’ to accommodate games that cannot be rescheduled within the current 18 weeks of the regular season,” according to the memo.

In addition, players on both teams won’t be paid for the game, and the team with the outbreak will cover financial losses due to the canceled game. Cancellations could also lead to disciplinary action.

“We will seek to minimize the burden on the opposing club or clubs,” the memo states. “If a club cannot play due to a Covid spike in vaccinated individuals, we will attempt to minimize the competitive and economic burden on both participating teams.”

According to the memo, vaccinated players or staff who test positive and don’t have symptoms can return to play after two negative tests 24 hours apart. Unvaccinated players who test positive must isolate for 10 days.

The announcement is being seen as push for players and staff to get vaccinated. The league has stated that it won’t mandate vaccination, though the restrictions for unvaccinated players and the potential penalties are meant to encourage people to get a shot.

During the 2020 season, more than a dozen games were rescheduled due to COVID-19 outbreaks. None were fully canceled, and all teams played the 16-game schedule. The 2021 season is set to begin Sept. 9 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Dallas Cowboys.

More than 78% of players have received at least one shot, and in 14 clubs, at least 85% percent of players have been vaccinated, NFL.com reported. All 32 teams have at least a 50% vaccination rate.

“We’re pleased with those numbers, but we’re not satisfied. We want to see them continue to go up,” Allen Sills, MD, chief medical officer for the NFL, told “NFL Now” on Thursday.

“Certainly those rates are well above what we’re seeing in the rest of society and certainly above the same age group as most of our players are,” he said. “So a great head-start, more work to be done.”

WebMD Health News Brief

Sources

NFL.com: “NFL informs clubs that COVID-19 outbreaks among unvaccinated players could lead to forfeited games.”

USA Today: “NFL threatens forfeits for teams with COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players.”

Sports Illustrated: “NFL to Enforce Forfeits in Event of COVID-19 Cancellation.”

NFL Now: “Dr. Allen Sills: Where NFL stands with player vaccinations entering training camps.”

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