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Coronavirus facemasks may be coming to NFL, too

© Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

As the world turns over itself and professional sports leagues collectively ponder how to return, both the NFL and NFLPA continue to review their options, which continue to result in some interesting proposals. The next on the docket is facemasks for… facemasks. The NFLPA’s medical director, Thom Mayer, told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that there are ongoing tests to attach facial coverings over facemasks.

It would double up on the facemask concept by fitting them with some form of N95 or surgical material.

“Yes, that’s a possibility,” Mayer told Schefter. “Back in early March, I had suggested that we should consider novel and emerging ways to handle the helmets and the facemasks and the spread of the virus. The bioengineers that we use and the league uses — Oakley… they’ve got some prototypes… They’re looking at every issue you can imagine, including when it fogs up, what do we do with that.”

Mayer said the employment would be intended to mitigate the spread of the virus, rather than a foolproof way to prevent the spread. He also discussed an upcoming task force meeting in which the NFL will look at testing, isolation protocols, etc.

“Frankly, if we get people in camps at club facilities and the virus begins to propagate quickly, we’re probably close to game over because of the spread of the virus,” Mayer said. “So we want to avoid that, number one, to keep the players safe, but also to avoid a situation where we’ve got complete clubs out and issues like that.”

The obvious question, and confounding part of the equation is: Is this a practical plan to limit the spread of coronavirus? Players will be in close quarters with teammates and once games begin, in even closer quarters with opponents. Is it just due diligence? Or is it something players have asked to be looked into in order for them to feel more comfortable with the idea of having a season?

One of the greatest assets the NFL has is time. It possesses more than any other league and can see how other leagues approach their return to play. But the NFL is a full contact sport. Sweat, blood, spit; it’s all going to end up on the field and it’s hard to believe a facemask on a facemask will be fully effective in preventing that transmission of bodily fluid from happening, especially given that helmets come off from time to time, as well as on the sideline.

Mayer pointed out that the trench atmosphere of football is particularly horrible for avoiding transmission.

“And then you get down in the trenches and you couldn’t design an environment that is more prone to transmitting the virus, if the virus is there, than football, particularly down in the trenches and the line and the linebackers, those folks that are making contact every single play.”

As KNBR was told by Amesh Adalja, M.D., Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, and member of the NCAA coronavirus panel, there’s no way to be 100 percent safe in conducting a sport like football.

“There is going to be some level of risk,” Adalja said. Playing out a season with that risk could be the right choice for the NFL Adalja said. It may well be the only choice at this point. But it will necessitate an open discussion from the NFL and NFLPA, and ultimately, players accepting they can catch the virus.


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