NFL, players' union agree to suspend COVID-19 protocols, citing decreasing spread

The NFL and NFL Players Association have suspended all leaguewide COVID-19 protocols effective immediately, pausing two years of largely successful efforts to play through the pandemic.

Teams received a memo Thursday morning detailing the decision, which was "based on current encouraging trends regarding the prevalence and severity" of the coronavirus.

Many of the league's most severe protocols had been dropped by the end of the 2021 season, including mandatory testing for asymptomatic players and staff, requirements to wear contact tracing devices and distancing limitations in weight rooms and cafeterias.

There is no football activity underway at club facilities at this point in the offseason, and the earliest it can begin is April 4 for teams that have hired new coaches. But Thursday's change will still affect coaches and other staff members who are attending this week's scouting combine in Indianapolis or who work year-round in local markets. Those employees will no longer face surveillance testing, regardless of vaccination status, or mask requirements.

Teams can choose to impose their own mask policies if desired, and the memo does leave open the possibility of reverting to a level of protocols if circumstances warrant.

"Should there be a reason to reimpose aspects of the protocols or to take other measures," the memo notes, "we will work closely with clubs, the NFLPA and our respective experts, and local, state and federal public health officials to continue to safeguard the health of the NFL community."

Teams are still required to comply with any state and local public health regulations.

The pandemic forced the NFL to cancel its 2020 offseason training and preseason, but it has played all regular-season and playoff games since, with a total of eight games being rescheduled. The full slate included an expansion of the postseason in 2020 and the regular season in 2021.

In some cases, the NFL's work on COVID-19 informed decisions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other public health institutions.

The NFL finished the 2021 season with vaccination rates of 95% for players and nearly 100% for other football staff members. There were four known hospitalizations among players, coaches and on-field officials for COVID-19 between the start of training camp in 2020 and the end of the 2021 season.