When Vikings rookies report for training camp in Eagan on Thursday, their first stop will likely be a trailer in the parking lot to get a coronavirus test.
It’s the initial step of the extensive groundwork set by the Vikings’ COVID committee to prepare for a 2020 NFL season, awaiting further agreements between the NFL and its players association.
The two sides passed a major hurdle Monday afternoon, agreeing to daily testing for the first two weeks of training camp, which can then be adjusted to every other day if positive rates fall below 5%.
Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans will arrive in Eagan on Thursday, despite ongoing negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA regarding the number of preseason games, camp structure and opt-out rules. The rest of the team is scheduled to report July 28. Training camp will be closed to fans this year.
“The first thing players can expect, I’d think, is a test,” said Vikings athletic trainer Eric Sugarman via videoconference on Monday. “Secondly, a health screening. We haven’t seen these guys in four months.”
Players will need two negative tests to be allowed into the team facility for camp. Once they’ve cleared the mobile trailer, parked in coach Mike Zimmer’s spot closest to the entrance, players and staffers will strap on a tracking bracelet and be asked to adhere to one-way hallways and 6 feet of distance.
Test results are expected in 24 hours, according to the NFL, and will be conducted by BioReference Laboratories, which is also handling the NBA’s procedures.
The Vikings are bracing for positive tests, according to Sugarman, who said in the event of a positive test he can “instantly” receive a report from the person’s tracking device detailing how close others got to the patient and for how long. Tracking devices will be worn on and off the field, but only at the team facility.
A positive test will result in quarantining in a “COVID room,” where the severity of the case can be determined. Sugarman said the Vikings also have a care package that will provide the patient with face coverings, a cleaning towel, skin cleaner, a thermometer, gloves, an oxygen monitor, educational resources and a meal plan.
Asymptomatic players can return after five days if they’ve received two consecutive negative tests, or after 10 days. Symptomatic players can return after 10 days, including at least three days after last exhibiting symptoms.
“We’re going to have people that get COVID. It’s unavoidable,” Sugarman said. “We have to be able to manage it.”
Still unknown are the Vikings’ camp structure and preseason schedule. The NFL had proposed two exhibitions, down from four, but the players union pushed for none. On Monday night, according to multiple news media reports, the NFL offered to scrap all preseason games.
Another critical issue is whether a player falling ill makes him eligible for the “non-football injury” list, which allows a team not to pay him.
Players also want a longer acclimation period because the pandemic led to the closing of offseason workouts and most public gyms. Sugarman said he has advised Zimmer on how to “minimize risk” when planning to practice a sport where contact is inevitable but was unclear how practices would be adjusted.
An extended helmet shield with breathing holes will be available to players for additional protection during practice. Masks will be required indoors, according to Sugarman.
“The virus is not political,” he said. “We have to get everyone to understand it is an absolute competitive advantage in the NFL in 2020 to adhere to these protocols.”
Education is a priority for Sugarman, the team’s infection control officer, who said he’ll get additional help when the NFL sends three COVID protocol coordinators. They will embed with every NFL team this season to help enforce testing, screening and tracing.
Sugarman said he’ll host webinars for players and their families about treatment and transmission of the virus in case of a positive test. Signage in the building dictates where people are allowed to go based on tiered access. Floor markings guide employees through one-way hallways and waiting areas.
The team has reconfigured locker rooms, the cafeteria, training and treatment areas and meeting rooms to ensure proper spacing and limit capacity.
“Personally, I have confidence we can do it,” Sugarman said. “We’ve taken every step to make this building as safe as possible. I’m hopeful we can make this work.”