The NFL has had its first game postponed due to a series of positive coronavirus tests.
On Thursday, the league announced that the Titans and Steelers will not play their Week 4 game, originally scheduled for Sunday, after several positive COVD-19 tests among Titans players and staff. Five players and six personnel have tested positive this week, including two new cases announced on Thursday, according to the NFL.
The game will be rescheduled, and the league said that an “announcement of the new game date will be made shortly.”
There are a few options, including playing the game in Week 7, when the Titans are supposed to have their bye. The Steelers are scheduled to play the Ravens that week, but both Pittsburgh and Baltimore have Week 8 byes, so that game could be moved back a week to make room for Titans-Steelers in Week 7. Another option would be to add a Week 18 to the regular-season schedule and eliminate the bye week after conference championship games. The Titans and Steelers could play that week, as could any other teams who wind up in similar situations.
The Titans are currently not allowed to enter their facilities, so they have suspended practices and in-person meetings. Coach Mike Vrabel said Thursday that he instructed players to avoid gathering and to treat this time as a regular bye week. Vrabel said that those who had tested positive were experiencing the virus differently but that some players who had “flulike symptoms” were starting to feel better.
“There were some people that tested positive that had symptoms, and some didn’t,” he said.
The Steelers did not immediately move into bye week mode and are planning to practice Thursday.
The Vikings, who played the Titans on Sunday, have had no positive cases since the game, according to NFL Network. ESPN reported that the NFL’s contact-tracing devices identified 48 members of the Vikings traveling party who were in close contact with individuals from the Titans who wound up testing positive. The latest round of test results for Vikings players and personnel is from Wednesday. Minnesota had closed its facilities, but has since reopened them, and will practice Thursday after requiring everyone entering the building to take a rapid-result point-of-care test. The Vikings are still scheduled to play the Texans in Houston on Sunday. The officiating crew that worked the Titans-Vikings game last week will be tested daily this week and will not work a game in Week 4, according to the NFL.
The median incubation period for the coronavirus is four to five days and the maximum has been found to be around 14 days, so it’s still possible that those exposed on Sunday would not yet have tested positive.
“It seems like the sweet spot for a positive is between days three and five. So Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday are critical days for us,” Vikings head athletic trainer and infection control officer Eric Sugarman told ESPN’s Courtney Cronin.
The NFL started testing players nearly every day beginning in training camp; thus far, the number of positive cases has been very low and the league has avoided the need to make any alterations to the schedule. From August 12 to September 19, during which time 238,671 tests were administered to players and personnel, seven player tests and 29 personnel tests came back positive, according to the NFL and NFLPA. The Titans’ cases represent the first significant spread, and show how difficult it is to prevent transmission of the virus once it’s present in an organization. The Titans first knew they had an issue when outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen was placed in COVID-19 protocol over the weekend. Bowen did not travel to Minnesota, but several players who didn’t test positive until after the game traveled on the team plane and had access to the field and locker room.