The NFL’s health officials touted their success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic ahead of Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said only one person was hospitalized for COVID-19 this season out of the league’s over 7,000 players, coaches and staff. He attributed that to the 95% of players and almost all staff who received at least two doses of the vaccine.
Only 10% of players have received a booster shot, compared to a 60% rate throughout the entire NFL community, he said. Still, the boosters, at least among staff, helped the league “withstand this storm.” Sills called them “the best protection” against the virus.
The officials spoke Monday at a press conference before the Feb. 13 game, where the Los Angeles Rams and Cincinnati Bengals will face off in SoFi Stadium, in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood, California. There will be no capacity restrictions at the arena, which seats about 70,000. Face masks will be handed out.
The NFL launched an antibody study to measure how immunity to the virus changes over time, which the officials said showed both a need for boosters and the effectiveness of the third shot. According to Sills, it’s one of several datasets they’ve shared with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the league dealt with positive COVID-19 cases over the season — predominantly among the unvaccinated — most cases weren’t serious, Sills said, something he also attributed to vaccinations. When omicron hit, he said they saw cases go up as much as 10-fold in a week.
Nine NFL protocols were changed during the course of the season to adapt to the pandemic. The changes included adjusting to the ultra-contagious omicron variant by switching from spot testing to targeted testing based on symptoms. The league also adopted the CDC’s updated five-day return guidance for those who tested positive.
Despite confidence in their handling of pandemic this season, the officials said there’s still a risk players could test positive before the Super Bowl. Sills said he believes all involved recognize what’s at stake, however.
“There’s a culture of recognition among the team,” he said. “There’s a lot of regulation of behaviors and players are doing everything they can to make sure they stay healthy ahead of the game.”
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