It turns out the light at the end of the tunnel was, in fact, just an oncoming train. After two straight days of negative test results for the Titans and reports indicating that they were on the verge of being allowed back into the facility to start preparing for a big Week 5 matchup with the Bills, reports of two new positive tests dropped this morning.
Both positives were confirmed with follow up point of care testing. You know the routine by now unfortunately, but we will get the names of the two players around 3:30 p.m. CT this afternoon when the league’s transaction wire runs.
How are players still testing positive after being sent home from the facility and asked to quarantine eight days ago? Our own John Glennon has the answer here from the CDC:
COVID has been such a widespread pandemic mostly due to this phenomenon: you can be carrying and spreading the disease for days before testing positive or showing any symptoms. That’s why teams are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing — among many other strict guidelines — while in the facility despite daily testing.
It’s also why I think it would be ridiculous at this point for the NFL to levy harsh punishments on the Titans. The league accepted the risk of outbreaks like this when they opted to proceed with a season without a bubble. Now we are seeing mini-outbreaks in New England (three positives including Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore) and Las Vegas (two positives) in addition to the big one in Tennessee.
What happens with the Titans-Bills game?
This game is now very much in question again, and unlike last week, there is no “easy” schedule solution. The Titans have already had their “bye” so any postponement would push the season out to a Week 18 (which the league probably should go ahead and consider a reality at this point).
The game also can’t simply slide back to Monday or Tuesday like the league did with the Patriots-Chiefs game last week. The Bills are scheduled to play the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football in Week 6. Maybe you could push that game to Friday or Saturday if you had to, but you’re talking about multiple reschedules at that point, not just one game.
There is still a possibility that the league decides to press forward with the game on Sunday as currently scheduled, though we’ve now crossed over the threshold where any “normal” week of preparation for the Titans is out the window. Usually, Wednesday would be their first full practice of the week, followed by practices on Thursday and Friday with a walk through on Saturday.
Following today’s test results, today’s potential practice is obviously cancelled and it’s hard to see the league letting them back in the facility on Thursday even if today’s test results come back clean tomorrow. So will the league be comfortable letting the Titans play an important AFC game after having just one practice in the past two weeks?
Moving the game back to Week 18 would seem to be the best case scenario for the Titans, but who knows what the league will decide to do at this point. My guess is that they exhaust every possible avenue to play this game as scheduled, even if that means throwing a depleted, rusty Titans squad to the wolves on Sunday.
Who is on the reserve/COVID list?
The Titans currently have 11 total players on the reserve/COVID list:
- LS Beau Brinkley
- OLB Kamalei Correa
- CB Kristian Fulton
- WR Adam Humphries
- DL DaQuan Jones
- DL Jeffery Simmons
- OL Isaiah Wilson
- WR Cameron Batson*
- TE Tommy Hudson*
- CB Greg Mabin*
Two more will be added to that number this afternoon.
The Titans also have had 10 team personnel members test positive. Based on reports, we know that there are coaches included in that number beyond the one name we know out of this group: outside linebackers coach and defensive playcaller Shane Bowen.
We should note that Isaiah Wilson has officially been on the COVID list for a month now and is not included in this outbreak. It was sounding like he was nearing a return prior to the facility getting shut down last week.
When can infected players return?
I wrote at length about the return to play protocols that were agreed upon by the NFL and NFL Players Association last week and you can read that here. Essentially, the big variable is the presence of symptoms. Some people who get COVID-19 never demonstrate any actual symptoms — one of the reasons the virus has been so hard to track — and the players that fall into that category can return to practice once they pass three hurdles:
- At least five days have passed since initial positive test.
- Player produces two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
- Receive clearance from the team’s head physician.
The players that fall into the asymptomatic category would all have a chance to play against the Bills — even fullback Khari Blasingame, who tested positive on Saturday (reported on Sunday) — if they can clear the virus from their system. Of course, five days is the minimum so do not assume that asymptomatic means an automatic five-day return.
Players that do show symptoms have a longer road to return. Those players must clear all of the following criteria to return to the facilities:
- At least ten days have passed since symptoms appeared.
- At least 72 hours have passed since player last experience symptoms.
- Approval from team’s head physician.
And after returning to the facilities, players who exhibit symptoms must then pass through additional cardiac screening and a minimum three-day progressive exercise protocol before getting cleared to participate in a game.
That means that players with symptomatic cases will require at least 13 days to pass from the time they initially begin showing symptoms and their first game back. In some cases, symptoms do not show up until after a positive test so it’s entirely possible that we see players miss up to three or four weeks of action depending on timing of the positive test and when symptoms appear.
We do not know how many of the ten recent cases are symptomatic versus asymptomatic and we likely will not know until guys start getting activated from the reserve/COVID list. We could see a few guys get added back onto the roster in time to play against Buffalo, but there is also a pretty decent chance that the Titans are without all ten. It’s simply impossible to project.