NFL chief medical officer: Playoff bubble environment not ‘safest course of action’ for avoiding COVID-19

With the Tennessee Titans set to return to action Tuesday night after a two-week layoff to account for the organization's COVID-19 outbreak, NFL officials continue to stress to teams the importance of remaining vigilant in ensuring their players, coaches and staffers follow protocol to minimize the spread of the virus.

The NFL’s owners on Tuesday took part in a virtual meeting on health, safety and other on-field matters. Commissioner Roger Goodell and chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills reiterated their message of the need for compliance and a commitment to the strategy of the preventative measures of wearing masks, hand-washing and maintaining social distancing along with testing, tracing and isolation.

“We can not become complacent,” Goodell told reporters, relaying his message to teams. “Not the players, not the coaches, not the personnel. Ninety percent is not good enough in this environment. We have to be incredibly diligent and disciplined.”

A close up an NFL football logo on a goalpost during an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Football Team, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020 in Landover, Md. (Photo: Daniel Kucin Jr., AP)

The NFL and NFL Player association again updated their testing protocol to include game-day testing for players, coaches and select staff members, believing it better to eliminate a gap in testing so team medical staffs can more readily identify coronavirus cases. Although the Titans endured an outbreak that involved 13 players and 11 staff members contracting COVID-19 and the league on Sunday shuffled the schedule for eight teams in light of the New England Patriots' postponement, NFL officials are otherwise encouraged by the way teams have handled the preventative practices. Sills pointed out that since the start of training camp 12 weeks ago, the league has had just 100 positive cases.

Sills echoed Goodell’s stance that 90% success isn’t good enough, but he said he remains confident the strategies and measures in place will help minimize the risk of the spread of the virus if teams are diligent in applying those practices.

Asked about the possibility of enacting a playoff bubble, Sills said that while “all options are on the table,” the league remains against such a move.

Discussions dating back to March among the NFL, NFLPA and medical experts led the league to believe a bubble wouldn’t be foolproof, Sills said, and that isolation could lead to a heavy mental and emotional toll for players as they are sequestered from family members.

“We don't feel that's the safest course of action for us,” Sills said.

Goodell and executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent both were asked about the possibility of the league adding an 18th week to provide greater scheduling flexibility, particularly later in the season once bye weeks have been used up. Goodell and Vincent said that although the NFL’s owners and officials are discussing many scenarios and understand the need for flexibility both during the season and possibly the postseason, the goal for now remains to fit the entire regular season in the originally scheduled 17-week window.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mike Jones on Twitter @ByMikeJones and listen to the Football Jones podcast on iTunes.

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