Research: NFL's strict COVID-19 policies lend insight into slowing spread of virus

We now know the road to the Super Bowl was paved in no small part by strict COVID-19 protocols.

When the season started, teams such as the Vikings enforced a strict set of rules, including testing upon arriving at training camp. But new research published by the Centers for Disease Control shows how the NFL intensified efforts as the season played on.

The data shows from August 9 through November 21, the NFL conducted 623,000 PRC tests on just over 11,000 players and staff.

As the more positive case developed, the NFL switched to an "intensive protocol" of daily testing. The protocol included a mandatory 5-day quarantine for high-risk exposures. Players wore trackable devices with extensive contact tracing.

Infectious disease specialist Doctor Andrew Badley at Mayo Clinic says this was a massive undertaking. "And the net effect was that they were able to identify and capture and place in quarantine, and or treat, individuals who were infected in a pretty impressive way," said Dr. Badley.

The CDC noted the real-time evaluations resulted in "decreased within-facility exposures despite increased community transmission of COVID-19 across the country during this time."

The research concluded the NFL’s strategies could be applied to essential workplaces, and long-term care facilities and schools.

But Dr. Badley is the first to say NFL'S protocol may not practical on a large level.

"It could be hard to apply that level of PCR testing, 700,000 PCR’s over some number of months to about 10,000 players, it’s hard to scale that but it does prove proof of concept."

Going forward, Dr. Badley says there are three things that will really control the virus. "So adding together early diagnosis, treatment, maintenance of public health precautions and acquisition of immunity in one of three ways, all three of those together synergistically will allow us to get through a steady-state of control."