NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo broke the news Tuesday that the Tennessee Titans are experiencing something of a COVID-19 outbreak. Per a league statement released minutes after the initial report, three players and five coaches tested positive for the coronavirus, which prompted the immediate shutdown of team facilities and in-person activities. The Titans’ previous opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, also announced the closure of team facilities, though they said that testing had not yet returned any positives. According to ESPN, the people who were infected are currently asymptomatic.
Titans outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen was the first member of the team to test positive on Saturday, and he did not travel to the game in Minnesota. NFL protocols call for testing every day except game day, so while no players were tested on Sunday, the eight positive tests in question were conducted on Monday. Contact tracers reportedly identified a total of 48 players who had close contact with the infected individuals, and since a new infection won’t show up for 5-7 days in either the polymerase chain reaction or point-of-care tests the NFL uses, the eight-person outbreak might not be a final tally. At least one person who tested positive was on the plane back to Tennessee on Sunday. So while the NFL has had seven players and 29 non-players test positive at various points before Monday, this represents the first possible outbreak of the season.
Both the Vikings and Titans have games this weekend. All we know for sure is that both teams will miss at least a few days of practice. This Byzantine chart breaks down when players can return based on exposure, test results, and symptoms. Players will also have to undergo evaluation from a cardiac specialist before they can return to the field.
Because the NFL is an institution with a long history of prioritizing the product over player safety, the league is reportedly doing everything it can to make sure Steelers-Titans happens. That includes possibly bumping it to Monday night to allow for an extra day for testing. The Steelers and Titans haven’t taken their bye weeks, although any rescheduling to another week would have to involve at least one more team since their byes don’t overlap. Even if the best-case scenario sees the Titans having to go into the game down a few players and without a week of practice time, this is still football, so head coach Mike Vrabel and his staff are already treating it as another obstacle that can be run through with the right mentality.