NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NFL knew they would likely have to deal with the coronavirus pandemic at some point when they proceeded with the 2020 season.
“At the end of the day, the safest teams and the healthiest team this year is going to be the one that’s going to be playing in January and February. We can only control what we can control,” Titans safety Kevin Byard said in August.
The Tennessee Titans became the first team to experience a COVID-19 outbreak. The number of positive tests is now up to 18 and the Titans game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, originally scheduled for Sunday, has been postponed. The Titans maintain they have adhered to NFL/NFLPA protocols and procedures.
Contact tracing was initiated as soon as positive tests were received, according to Titans coach Mike Vrabel. Players and select team employees wear a Proximity Recording Device that tracks interaction with others who wear the device. Anyone who was in close proximity to a person that tests positive is subjected to multiple tests. According to the CDC, the COVID-19 virus has an incubation period can last up to 14 days. An infected person can be contagious up to 72 hours before they even beginning showing symptoms.
While the Titans were the first team, they weren’t the last affected. Here is a timeline of how everything unfolded for the Titans and the NFL leading up to Saturday’s decision to postpone the Kansas City Chiefs– New England Patriots game.
Sept. 24: Titans defensive back Greg Mabin tests positive. Mabin was removed from the facility after receiving a positive test according to Vrabel. Mabin was placed immediately into the protocol.
Added Vrabel: “When he [Mabin] tested positive he was removed from the building. He was quarantined, and those individuals that were close contacts with him were also retested and went through their protocol as well as being a close contact.”
The Titans signed Mabin to their practice squad on Sept. 21 to add depth. There are new procedures for bringing in a free agent due to the pandemic.
“When you try players out they go through a process of testing and quarantine before you work them out, and then when you work them out, you decide to sign them or not, and then they’re into the testing protocol,” Vrabel said on Thursday. “At that point in time when he tested positive, we went through and followed the protocol and he was removed from the facility.”
Sept. 26: Titans’ outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen tests positive. The Titans received Bowen’s positive test on Saturday morning. Bowen stayed back from the Titans’ trip to Minnesota to play the Vikings.
“When we get the results early in the morning, Todd (Toriscelli) and his staff and Adrian (Dixon) begin the contact tracing. They do the follow up testing and then we proceed from there with the protocol as a relates to any of the positives that would come up,” Vrabel said on Thursday. “There’s a POC test which happens, and we’re very confident that we’ve followed the guidelines with the protocol that the league and the Players Association have set forth as it relates to identifying those persons of close contact and by using the tracing devices.”
Sept. 27: Titans play the Vikings in Minnesota. The Titans defeated the Vikings with Vrabel calling the defensive plays in place of Bowen who handled playcalling duties for the first two games.
No Vikings have tested positive since the Titans game.
Sept. 28: News breaks of Bowen’s positive test. Vrabel confirms Bowen had a positive test and didn’t make the trip to Minnesota. Vrabel also says Bowen is not with the team and they have followed NFL/NFLPA procedures.
“I’d say we’ve followed all the protocols as it relates to COVID,” Vrabel said. “We’re following the hundred memos that they’ve sent out verbatim.”
Titans positive tests: 1 player, 1 team personnel member
Sept. 29: Titans have eight more positive tests. The Titans received new positive tests from three players and five staff members. They placed defensive lineman DaQuan Jones, long-snapper Beau Brinkley and practice squad tight end Tommy Hudson on the reserve-COVID list.
All in-person activities at the Titans’ facility were suspended, but the Week 4 game in Nashville against the Pittsburgh Steelers had not yet been impacted.
“We’ve been given a mandate to prepare as if the game is going to be played and played on time,” Tomlin said.
The Vikings received news of the additional positive tests and closed their facility along with putting a halt to all in-person activities.
Titans positive tests: 4 players, 6 team personnel members
Sept. 30: Another Titan tests positive. Outside linebacker Kamalei Correa was placed on the reserve-COVID list. Vrabel was preparing the team to play as early as Monday. According to Vrabel, the players that were in need of treatment were able to enter the facility to see the athletic training staff. Anyone that entered the building was required to wear a mask at all times.
Vrabel also says some of the players that tested positive are experiencing flu-like symptoms but “anticipates that they will feel better shortly.”
Minnesota reopened its facility with enhanced protocols. ESPN Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin reported everyone entering the building had to have a negative PCR test and a negative point of care test (nasal swab with results available in 20 minutes).
Titans positive tests: 5 players, 6 team personnel members
Dianna Russini shares the latest on Cam Newton testing positive for COVID-19 and what that means for the Patriots.
Oct. 1: Two more Titans test positive, NFL postpones Titans vs. Steelers. The Titans placed cornerback Kristian Fulton on the reserve-COVID list. An additional unnamed team personnel member also tested positive.
According to a statement, the NFL’s decision to move the Titans-Steelers game to a later date was made “to ensure the health and safety of players, coaches and game day personnel.”
Vrabel told the media the Titans are “very confident that we’ve followed the guidelines with the protocol that the league and the players’ association have set forth.” The Titans facility remained closed . All players, coaches and select team members continued testing while the team was on their bye week as a result of the postponement.
The Titans turned their attention to their Week 5 opponent, the Buffalo Bills. Vrabel delivered that message to the Titans during a virtual team meeting at 8:30 am.
“We had a squad meeting to inform the team that in light of the two recent positive tests that we had, the NFL had made the smart and safe decision to postpone our game, and that we would be on a bye week starting now. Reminded them to not gather with each other, players and staff, until we can find a safe way to enter in back to our building. Hopefully, which would happen Monday or Tuesday, which we would then prepare for preparation against Buffalo.”
The NFL also issued a memo with enhanced protocols for teams to follow after exposure to the COVID-19 virus — including two daily tests. PPE and face masks must be worn by all players and coaches on the practice field and gloves must be worn by everyone except quarterbacks on their throwing hand. All meetings must be virtual and there will also be daily deep cleanings of the facility. The protocols also prohibit team or player gatherings away from the facility.
Titans positive tests: 6 players, 7 team personnel members
Oct 2: Two more Titans test positive, NFL reschedules Titans vs. Steelers for Week 7. The Titans place wide receivers Adam Humphries and Cam Batson on the reserve-COVID list.
— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) October 3, 2020
Both the Titans and the Steelers have Week 4 as their bye week. Officials from the NFL and NFLPA visit Nashville to further look into the outbreak situation.
The NFL released another memo, this time outlining procedures during the bye week and “testing cadence.” The statement reminds players there is a $50,000 fine for missing a test. A second missed results in a one game suspension.
Any player that misses a daily test without authorization during the bye week must have five negative PCR tests (taken 24 hours apart) before re-entering their team facility.
Titans positive tests: 8 players, 7 team personnel members
Oct. 3: Multiple NFL positive tests. The Titans received another positive test for a player and for two team personnel members.
News broke that New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive on Saturday morning. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that per source, the Patriots did mass testing and retesting and there is no spread at the moment.
Schefter also reported Sunday’s Patriots vs. Chiefs game will likely be moved to Tuesday.
Chiefs practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu also tested positive for COVID.
Titans positive tests: 9 players, 9 team personnel members