On Tuesday, the Atlanta Falcons entered the NFL's supplemental intensive protocols. The decision was made by NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, in consultation with medical experts, after rookie defensive tackle Marlon Davidson was placed on Atlanta's reserve/COVID-19 list.
Due to the NFL's supplemental intensive protocols, the Falcons implemented several changes to the way they conducted business on Wednesday.
"We did have a player who tested positive there from Monday's test that we found out on Tuesday," Sills said in a conference call with reporters. "Obviously, we immediately did what we always do, which is go into contact tracing and identification of any high-risk individuals and removing them as well as the indexed player. We, out of an abundance of caution, began our intensive protocol both in Atlanta and Carolina."
All meetings were either conducted virtually or held in the team meeting room or indoor practice facility to allow for maximum social distancing. Masks were required to be worn at all times by those present at the facility, including on the practice field if a player's helmet was off. Additionally, Oakley face shields were attached to all player helmets for maximum protection. During virtual media availability, players were required to wear masks.
Thursday morning, the Falcons announced that "out of an abundance of caution following one new positive test" the team would be shutting down its facility and conducting all work virtually for the day. Per NFL Network reporter Mike Garafalo, the Falcons had one team personnel member test positive.
"There was a new individual that tested positive in Atlanta today," Sills said. "I think, again, we've had them in the intensive protocol this week specifically knowing that other cases could arrive."
The Falcons were given the option to return to their facility at noon on Thursday by the NFL, but, following that abundance of caution, declined to do so. Barring any additional positive tests, the team plans to return to its facility on Friday with the same precautions that were in place on Wednesday.
There are a number of requirements that are in place for the Falcons while they remain in the NFL's supplemental intensive protocols. Those requirements are as follows:
- In addition to daily PCR testing, all players and Tier 1 and 2 individuals must receive a daily POC test and test negative before entering the facility and commencing daily activities. This includes PCR and POC tests on game day.
- All meetings must occur virtually unless held outdoors or in an indoor facility with masks being worn by all.
- Whenever possible, activities will take place either outdoors or in large, open spaces.
- Personal protective equipment/face masks must be worn on the practice fields by players and staff at all times – no exceptions. Oakley face shields affixed to helmets are permitted to be worn during practice and/or walk-thrus.
- Players may remove helmet/mask for breaks but should be greater than 6 feet distant from each other when unprotected.
- Gloves should also be worn on field by all players except quarterbacks who may leave the throwing hand uncovered.
- Players receiving medical treatment or rehabilitation must wear a mask and face shield. Medical providers must wear the same as well as gloves.
- Rehab that involves cardio work may be done out of doors with player unmasked as long as they are by themselves or supervised by one therapist at an appropriate distance.
- The weight room will be limited to no more than 10 players at any time regardless of the size of the room. Other personnel in the weight room are limited to five total when players are present. PPE is required.
- The facility will be deep cleaned daily.
- No team or player gatherings or group football activities will be permitted away from the facility.
- Club Infection Control Officers must review close contact information provided by IQVIA with the club general manager and coach on a daily basis.
"We definitely had different meetings today, completely virtual where we're all in separate rooms and in our own space," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said Wednesday. "Even at practice, masks on our helmets. I think we're doing everything we can to try to keep it at bay and do the best we can under the guidelines that we've been given. Those guidelines for sure have changed this week."
In addition to the extra protocols put into place listed above, the Falcons have been utilizing their on-campus dorms throughout training camp and the 2020 season. Each dorm has four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and two players are housed in each dorm. The dorms also operate as individual locker rooms for each player, preventing them from gathering inside as a large group in one location before and after practices.
"I have visited the Falcons' facility," Sills said. "I want to applaud them for the work they've done. I think they've done a terrific job of reconfiguring their facility, of thinking through all of the procedures and protocols, of really emphasizing things on a day-to-day basis and they've done a very good job there. The situation of today shouldn't change that fact."
The NFL rescheduled eight games after deciding to postpone the Week 5 matchup between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos. Barring any new positive tests, the Falcons are still expected to travel to Minnesota and play the Vikings on Sunday.
As for when the Falcons will be clear of the NFL's supplemental intensive protocols, Dr. Sills will make that determination when he believes it is right to do so.