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NFL’s 2021 COVID plan features harsh penalties for unvaccinated outbreaks

Game forfeiture and paycheck forfeiture are both on the line.

The NFL unveiled a sweeping memo on Thursday detailing their policies for handling COVID-19 outbreaks in the 2021 season, and it has severe implications for teams with unvaccinated personnel. The memo, shared by NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero, doesn’t mandate that players be fully vaccinated, but it imposes draconian penalties on any team whose season is disrupted by a viral outbreak with unvaccinated players or staff. Here are the main takeaways from this update that is sure to be received with calm, measured reactions all around:

Faster return to action for vaccinated players

In 2020, the COVID-19 protocols forced a player to isolate for at least ten days after a positive viral test, and only return after that time if they were asymptomatic. For unvaccinated players in 2021, that policy remains in effect. For a vaccinated player, he may return to action after two negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

In addition, vaccinated players will not be required to self-quarantine if exposed to an infected person, while unvaccinated players will be required to self-quarantine for five days.

No excuses for teams with an unvaccinated outbreak

The NFL is curtailing their schedule flexibility all-around, claiming that “substantial roster flexibility” should allow teams to play even with multiple illnesses affecting a single position group. They note that “games will not be postponed or rescheduled” absent government directives or medical considerations this year.

Then comes the first whammy:

If a game is cancelled or postponed because of a COVID spike among or resulting from its non-vaccinated players/staff, then the burden of the cancellation or delay will fall on the club experiencing the COVID infection.

The NFL’s memo continues:

If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a COVID outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest ... and the other team will be credited with a win.

Not finished yet, they add additional stipulations:

The club experiencing the outbreak will be responsible for all additional expenses incurred by the opposing team and will also be required to pay any shortfall between actual and expected payment to the VTS (Visiting Team’s Share) pool.

If a game is cancelled and cannot be rescheduled due to a COVID outbreak, neither team’s players will receive their weekly paragraph 5 salary.

The commissioner retains the authority to impose additional sanctions, particularly if the COVID outbreak is reasonably determined to be the result of a failure by club personnel to follow applicable protocols.

In other words, the NFL just dropped an atomic bomb on anyone who was still holding out from the COVID vaccine in their league.

Vaccination rates climbing in many clubs

Also included in the memo was an accounting of the latest vaccination statistics from the NFL. According to their stats, nearly every club has vaccinated 100 percent of their “Tier 1 and 2 staffs.” (According to the NFL’s COVID protocols, Tier 1 represents essential football personnel, like coaches and trainers, who spend extended periods of time in direct access with players. Tier 2 represents other personnel who need to be cleared to spend time in proximity with players, but not necessarily for periods of greater than ten minutes) The NFL also adds that more than 75 percent of players are “in the process of being vaccinated,” and that the majority of teams have vaccination rates greater than 80 percent of their players.