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Inside the Buffalo Bills’ strategy to mitigate COVID-19

Tents, wristwatches, and “back up or mask up”

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned Buffalo Bills training camp inside-out. Literally. The team, attempting to minimize any potential risk of spreading the coronavirus, has brought their meeting rooms and cafeteria to the outdoors, using a complex of several frame tents. It’s just one of several steps the Bills have taken for a safer training camp environment. Over the course of the past few days, the team has offered press availability for head coach Sean McDermott, general manager Brandon Beane, and multiple Bills players. Those sessions, and team-produced media, have shed some light onto the initiative.

“Back up or mask up.” That’s Sean McDermott’s mantra for the current situation. The Bills are well aware that football is a sport that requires players to invade another’s personal space, but by limiting close contact for the other 165 hours in a week, they can greatly lower the risk when it counts. The Bills are using special wrist devices from a company called Kinexon. In another year, Kinexon would be tailoring their solutions for comprehensive player movement tracking as an analytic football aid. In this season, their trackers (which look like a wristwatch with the face replaced with a blinking light) are used to alert people when they move within six feet of another person.

The eating area is carefully composed with tables and chairs spaced six feet apart, the recovery area with cold tubs and massage chairs is wide-open and sprawling, and the players run five yards apart during their on-field workouts.

Comprehensive testing is another key facet of Buffalo’s COVID-19 readiness plan. The team has players fill out a daily questionnaire to ask them about oncoming symptoms or potential exposure to the virus through other contacts. When people drive up at the facility, the first thing they do is take a coronavirus test.

The Bills are keeping an eye on any potential outbreaks (with a total of five positive tests so far), and are prepared to move to virtual meetings if the situation forces it. They’re also continuing to evaluate the strategic implications of this new situation. McDermott mentioned that he’s reached out to college head coaches, to understand how they prepare for games without a preseason. (Playing the New York Jets in Week 1 isn’t quite the same as scheduling Murray State for an easy tune-up, although it’s close.)

At the end of the day, as McDermott says, they “can’t blink.” The Bills have taken their process as far as playoff contention, and built their best team (on paper) in decades. The next step is to bring this team through the conference championship. In 2020, that won’t just mean the best roster—it’ll mean the team that prepared for the challenges of this pandemic. The Bills will make any adjustments necessary.