Last week the Minnesota Vikings unveiled an elaborate infectious disease emergency response (IDER) designed to keep the coronavirus at bay in their team facility. But news broke Monday that reinforced how difficult it’s going to be to mitigate exposure to COVID-19.
Athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, who had taken the role of the Vikings’ infection control officer, tested positive for the virus over the weekend and is now quarantined with his family, according to a team statement. The Vikings also announced later in the day that four rookies had been placed on the new Reserve/COVID-19 list: first-round receiver Justin Jefferson, seventh-round safety Brian Cole II, UDFA guard Tyler Higby and UDFA T Blake Brandel. The team is not obligated to divulge whether those players contracted the virus or were in close proximity to someone who had.
Considering the bulk of the team’s roster has yet to report for their initial COVID-19 tests — they plan to do so Tuesday — the Vikings may have additional quarantining players before the week is over. Players must test negative twice before entering the building, so those currently quarantining are unlikely to have been exposed to other players for a long period of time. They reportedly were not in contact with Sugarman, who released a statement through the team.
“I have an immense amount of pride in the effort I have personally put forth to protect the NFL family, the Minnesota Vikings organization and our community with thoughtfulness and decision-making based on the current science over these last four months,” Sugarman said. “I am humble to be serving in that capacity as it has been some of the most rewarding work of my career. But as I sit here in quarantine, it is clear this virus does not discriminate. It should continue to be taken seriously. I encourage people to take the necessary precautions and follow guidelines that have been established nationally and locally.”
Per the Vikings, the facility was sanitized in areas where Sugarman had worked and any exposed personnel were notified.
When Sugarman spoke to reporters on July 20, he predicted that some employees would inevitably get the virus but the team was doing everything possible to prevent spread. The Vikings are using contact tracing technology that alerts staff members with a blinking bracelet if they are too close to unauthorized employees and can generate a report to indicate who is most susceptible if there was a positive test. The team has also enacted numerous social distancing measures to keep players from being overexposed to their teammates and coaches.
As for the four players currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, it’s possible they are merely quarantining after close exposure to an infected individual and are waiting for their latest test results. If they received a positive test, however, that would mean a 10-day quarantining period, per the protocols shared earlier in the month by NFL Network reporter Tom Pelissero. The only exception to the 10-day policy would be if a player received two negative tests within 24 hours following a five-day quarantine period.
The NFL last night sent to clubs COVID-19 protocols for 2020 training camp and preseason, including this detailed breakdown for handling individuals exposed to someone who tested positive: pic.twitter.com/bX7aQzMZTZ
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 4, 2020
For Cole, Higby and Brandel, their chances of making the roster will dip even more with additional time missed. If Jefferson is out for an extended period, it will only increase the learning curve for the rookie wide receiver, who is expected to contribute immediately on offense.
Head coach Mike Zimmer spoke Saturday about the need to adapt as players miss time with the virus.
“With the players, you know, when they get a guy hurt they understand that’s part of the game,” Zimmer said, “and they’ll understand if a guy misses two weeks because he tests positive for COVID, then somebody has to come in. Again, they’re not going to cancel games, so we have to go in and figure out how to win.”
To Zimmer’s last statement, fans should knock on wood. A season without canceled games would be a major success now that teams are having their first in-house encounters with COVID-19.