NFL, Chiefs not immune to COVID cases

Sam McDowell The Kansas City Star (TNS)

A team staff member has tested positive for coronavirus and is self-quarantining, the Chiefs announced Thursday morning. That staff member is Rick Burkholder, the team's vice president of sports medicine and performance, according to an NFL Network report.

"The health and safety of our players, coaches and staff members remains our No. 1 priority," the Chiefs said in a statement.

That's not fully in their control, and they realize that. The NFL has braced itself for the potential of a more significant effect in the coming days and weeks, per its chief medical officer, citing national trends. The five days with the highest national number of new COVID-19 cases have all come within the last week, according to Johns Hopkins University.

While the league has been pleased with its overall results and response this season, crediting the numerous additional protocols teams have put in place, it still remains at the mercy of those aforementioned national trends. And those trends are moving in the wrong direction.

The Chiefs are the 11th team this week to experience some sort of mid-week adjustment prompted by either a COVID-19 infection or exposure to an infected person.

The NFL has yet to reschedule or postpone a game this week. Even Thursday's matchup with the Packers and 49ers will be played despite both teams missing players who are on the COVID-19/reserve list. Explaining that decision on the NFL Network on Thursday, NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills said "we felt like we had a really good handle on the situation."

A player who appears on the COVID-19/reserve list has not necessarily tested positive but rather might be considered a "high risk close contact," and the NFL recently sent a memo to teams instructing them that wearing a mask could help a player avoid that label, per the NFL Network.

The 49ers have one positive case with receiver Kendrick Bourne, while three others were labeled close contacts of his. The Packers have three players on the list, including two running backs. The Ravens are up to more than a half-dozen players on the COVID-19 list after cornerback Marlon Humphrey tested positive and others were close contacts. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford landed on the list after exposure to a non-team member who tested positive for coronavirus.

The Broncos, Cardinals, Colts, Texans, Bears and Cowboys have all had run-ins with COVID-19. And that's just this week.

It's a lot. And it could grow. In a call with reporters last week, Sills acknowledged it will become more difficult for teams to control the virus within their own walls as it escalates outside them. He preached extra caution.

The Chiefs still held a morning practice Thursday but closed their training facility in the afternoon and held all meetings virtually as they prepare to play the Panthers on Sunday.

They have put strict measures in place at their practice and game-day facilities, but they have emphasized responsibility outside the facilities, too.

The Chiefs have had two players land on the COVID-19/reserve list this season. Practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta'amu tested positive before a Week 4 game with the Patriots, but contact tracing showed no teammate would be deemed a "high risk close contact." Fullback Anthony Sherman returned to the team Tuesday after missing the past three games while on the list.

As a whole, 63 NFL players and 99 other personnel tested positive for COVID-19 during a three-month period from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31, according to results the league released Wednesday. That included eight new players and 17 new other personnel cases last week, an increase from each of the previous two weeks.