HOUSTON — The Houston Texans open a very different type of training camp this week with emphasis on a COVID-19 playbook and protocols.
They’ll be following a game plan designed by the NFL to try and protect players, coaches and staff from the virus that continues to spread like wildfire through the Houston area.
Dozens of players had already tested positive in recent weeks, according to the NFL.
During training camp, no fans or visitors will be allowed at practices and there will be no practice games against other teams.
The NFL also announced Monday that all preseason games are canceled.
The Texans are scheduled to kick off their regular season at Kansas City on Sept. 10.
What the games will look like – including whether fans can attend -- remains to be seen.
“COVID-19 will continue to present a major challenge to nearly every area of American life. Football is no exception,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a letter to fans. “Every step of the way, our focus has been on the safety of players, coaches, personnel, fans and our communities.”
The NFL worked with the CDC to come up with a long list of protocols for the 2020 season.
NFL testing guidelines
- Before they can practice, players must pass three COVID-19 tests in five days.
- Players and coaches will be tested for the virus daily for at least the first two weeks and regularly after that.
- Results are expected within 24 hours.
- When there is a positive test, strict regulations will be enforced to isolate and care for that individual and to contain the virus.
- Players who test positive will stay away from all facilities until medically approved to return.
- If there has been close contact exposure to a symptomatic or COVID-19 positive person, a PCR virus test is needed as soon as possible with isolation until results are available.
- Temperature check and screening daily for everyone who enters
- Face masks are required.
- During team activities, players must wear wristband recording devices to identify close contacts in case they test positive.
- Adhere to all physical distancing protocols at the facility
- Do not share towels, water bottles, food, or clothing with others.
- Any shared equipment must be cleaned after each use.
Players with symptoms
- Immediately report to team physician or head trainer
- Immediately quarantine
- If symptoms are developed while at the facility, player will immediately be isolated to a separate room, tested and sent home to self-quarantine.
- Masks required
- Social distancing protocols include: separate hotel rooms; buses limited to 50% capacity; at least one open seat between airplane passengers
- No use of public transportation allowed
- No visitors in hotel rooms
- Stay away from restaurants that are open to the public.
- Teams must distribute educational materials and conduct educational sessions for players, staff and family members.
- Each team must hold at least one live virtual education session so players and members of the football staff can ask any questions of the club’s medical staff.
- A separate session is required for family members who have questions.
- Aug. 3 is the deadline for players who decide they want to opt out.
- They will receive a stipend from the owners.
- The amount of the stipend will be $350,000 for medical opt outs and $150,000 for voluntary opt outs, sources told The Associated Press.
Some players have already opted out for the season, including Texans defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes, according to the NFL Network. Vanderdoes only played in three games for the Texans last season.
Those who play are expected to do their part to protect themselves and their teammates and face discipline if they don't follow the protocols.
“It’s not just education by coaches, the athletic trainers and the doctors here. It’s also peer to peer education,” said Reggie Scott, Rams vice president of Sports Medicine and Performance. "It’s self-policing a little bit in terms of making sure we’re going to hold each other accountable and make sure that this is just not about your personal health, but it’s about the health of the guy next to you.”
Goodell said adaptability and flexibility will be keys to a successful season during this pandemic. In other words, be ready to punt.