Last week, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had a “false positive” COVID test that resulted in Stafford being removed from the COVID-19 list. Due to the false positive, the NFL and NFLPA agreed on Friday to a rules change in the testing that will include a “point-of-care” test. This change is expected to enhance the current testing process. These tests are “instant” and can be done without sending the sample to a lab.
Pro Football Talk reported that the new tests have a much higher degree of accuracy than the league believed it had. Initially, the league thought these POC tests were accurate between 80-85% of the time. A week later—based on representations from the vendor—the POC tests are reportedly 97% accurate. The NFL is hoping that these point of care tests will supplant the current testing that requires each test to be sent away. For that to happen, I’d imagine the accuracy rate needs to be 99%, at worst. If we reach that point, there’d be a lot more optimism in the season lasting and possibly finishing. There’s an argument to be made about everyone in each team’s facility possibly catching the virus outside of work. That will remain a concern until we flatten the curve of coronavirus cases in the US.
Here is the example Peter King used to explain how a POC test would work. King also mentioned a lot of execs want the POC test to be used now.
Say a player who had been consistently negative tests positive on the Friday before a game. The team gets the negative result Saturday morning. The player would get a point-of-care test and another regular test that morning. If the POC test is negative, and the regular test comes back negative sometime before the game, this player can play in his Sunday game. Because players are likely to be tested either daily or three-plus times during the week, a false positive (the regular NFL tests are believed to be better than 95-percent accurate) without a POC test could knock a player testing positive on Saturday out of the game. This way, if he’s clean, he plays. The POC test doesn’t need to go to a lab; results are known within 30 minutes. The regular test would still have to go to a lab, and in most cases, the team would have the result back early the next morning.
Again, the accuracy rate has to be higher than 95% for this to be reliable. I’m all for expediting the process, but we have to make sure the players are healthy without any “what ifs.”
This season will be different in a way that we would have never expected back in January. Players are going to want to challenge the results of any negative test, and that is going to put NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a tough spot. Because of that, King said that Goodell would likely have a “COVID Cabinet” of sorts for advice surrounding the inevitable COVID cases/issues. King speculated on a couple of former coaches, general managers, and players. Nobody on Goodell’s committee would be affiliated with a current NFL team. Even with the positive results during the first two weeks, daily testing is going to continue.