N.F.L. Trims Early Preseason Game and Prepares for Training Camps

The N.F.L. on Thursday canceled its annual Hall of Fame Game, an exhibition scheduled for Aug. 6, so players and coaches grappling with restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic could have more time to prepare for the regular season, which, for now, is still set to begin Sept. 10.

The decision, by team owners in an ad hoc teleconference, gave the league flexibility to push back, if needed, the start of training camps. Starting in late July, teams are expected to begin welcoming players to their facilities.

The league and the players’ union are also discussing other measures, including further trimming the preseason schedule, which consists of four games per team.

Still, Roger Goodell, the league commissioner, said the N.F.L. was committed to starting the regular season on time and, if allowed by state and local officials, having fans in the seats at games.

The most immediate hurdle, though, is preparing for training camps. While the league has established safety protocols that have allowed front office members and coaches to return to their offices, the N.F.L. and the N.F.L. Players Association have not agreed on a set of guidelines, including testing and quarantines, to govern the return of players. “Obviously, there’s a lot more to do,” Goodell said.

Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, said in a conference call with reporters after the meeting that the N.F.L. was in “very active discussions” with the players’ union on screening, travel and a “very ambitious” testing program, though “testing alone is not going to be sufficient to keep everyone healthy.”

“This is all about risk reduction,” he added. “We know we can’t eliminate risk.”

Unlike other professional leagues whose seasons were interrupted by the pandemic in March, the N.F.L. has been able to conduct most of its normal off-season activities, including free agency, the draft and off-season workouts, remotely rather than in person.

The league did, however, cancel its annual meeting in late March and has said its slate of regular-season games overseas will be moved back to the United States.

Training camps will be particularly critical this year because coaches were not able to work directly with new draft picks, players acquired via trades, free agents invited to work out and other new players in April and June. The new collective bargaining agreement that was signed in mid-March allows teams to add two players, increasing the roster size to 55 from 53.

The union and the league are discussing the possibility of increasing the size of rosters even more to make it easier to find substitutes for players who are infected with the coronavirus and must go into quarantine.

Teams must report to training camp 47 days before their first regular-season game. For the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans, who open the season on Sept. 10, that means reporting on July 25. Other teams would be required to start training camp by July 28.

The league has said that to maintain competitive balance, all teams must open training camp at the same time. Doing so may mean pushing back the start of training camp because the number of infections has been rising in several states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas, that host N.F.L. teams.

The number of players who have been infected is also growing. Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys’ star running back, confirmed that he tested positive for the coronavirus this month. Other members of the Cowboys, as well as staff members and players from the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Houston Texans, the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, have also reportedly tested positive. Von Miller, the star linebacker on the Denver Broncos, said in April that he had tested positive, while New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton also tested positive.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 24, 2020

    • What’s the best material for a mask?

      Scientists around the country have tried to identify everyday materials that do a good job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored high, as did vacuum cleaner bags, fabric similar to flannel pajamas and those of 600-count pillowcases. Other materials tested included layered coffee filters and scarves and bandannas. These scored lower, but still captured a small percentage of particles.

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

Some players, including Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady, have been flouting the union’s social distancing recommendations by practicing in groups without wearing personal protective equipment, or P.P.E. On Thursday, Brady posted a photo of a workout to his Instagram account with a paraphrased quotation from Franklin D. Roosevelt that read, “Only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”

Alarmed by rising infection rates and informal practices, the players’ union’s medical director, Thom Mayer, sent a message to players last week urging them not to participate in group workouts during the off-season.

While other leagues, like the N.B.A. and M.L.S., plan for players, coaches and staff to live and work in an enclosed community, the N.F.L. has announced no such plans. Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s highest ranking specialist in infectious diseases, cast doubt on the N.F.L.’s approach.

“Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN last week.

With so many unanswered questions about how to begin training camp safely, the owners have bought themselves some time by eliminating the Hall of Fame Game.

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