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Falcons avoid spate of NFL false positive COVID-19 tests over the weekend

Atlanta’s got the luck of the lab here.


Thus far, the story of the summer for the NFL has been a surprising lack of positive COVID-19 tests. Despite having what seemed like a pretty slapdash plan for training camp and especially the upcoming season, the league has been relatively fortunate in avoiding the kind of positive tests that briefly derailed some Major League Baseball team seasons. That likely won’t continue forever, but it’s been a great sign for the season ahead that teams have been able to control the spread of the virus.

That seemed briefly in doubt this weekend, when there were suddenly reports of a spate of positive COVID-19 tests across the league. Teams from the Browns to the Bears elected to either delay or cancel practices in the wake of those tests, and for a moment it seemed as though the wave of ill players had arrived.

Happily, it has not. Unhappily, it appears to be due to testing errors from one lab, a lab that the Falcons thankfully do not utilize.

Here’s the NFL’s statement:

“We are working with our testing partner, BioReference, to investigate these results, while the clubs work to confirm or rule out the positive tests. clubs are taking immediate precautionary measures as outlined in the NFL-NFLPA’s health and safety protocols to include contact tracing, isolation of individuals and temporarily adjusting the schedule, where appropriate. The other laboratories used for NFL testing have not had similar results.”

There may be a positive test or two mixed in there—though we certainly hope not—but this is a reminder that a lot of the response to COVID-19 and the testing associated with it is not perfect, and should not be expected to be. The league and this lab will hope to figure out what went wrong soon enough to prevent it from happening again, but at least teams can breathe easy this time around, and hopefully the league’s stroke of good fortune continues.

It’s possible to draw sweeping and likely wrong-headed conclusions from this by trying to extrapolate this to the larger American population, but most people getting tested in the larger country are doing so because they have symptoms, not because they are being essentially tested daily as healthy NFL players living in fear of a virus sweeping through their locker rooms. It’s also possible, as some did, to jump on the early reports of the results and assume that doom has arrived for the league, which springs from an understanding of just how fast this virus has worked through the larger country but appears to be wrong here. Our best bet, given everything that has happened to this point, is to wait until positive tests are well and truly confirmed before we justifiably start to worry about what might happen to the NFL season ahead.

The Falcons, meanwhile, continue to be one of the league’s model franchises in terms of how they’ve handled everything COVID-related to this point. If all goes well, that will pay dividends into the regular season.