The memo generated by the league on Friday to all teams regarding changes to the coronavirus testing protocol contains a new development that could eventually go a long way toward enhancing the testing process: The NFL is now using “point of care” testing along with off-site testing for COVID-19.
Point of care is the technical term for testing that can be done without sending the sample to a lab. It’s the key to expediting the process and, eventually, knowing with sufficient certainty that anyone who enters a team facility or a stadium is negative then and there, without waiting for a result from a laboratory.
PFT has learned that point of care testing is a new addition to the broader testing protocol. The specific point of care testing that the NFL is using apparently has a much higher degree of accuracy than the league believed it had, as of just a week or so ago. Then, the league believed point of care testing had accuracy in the range of 80 to 85 percent. Now, the league believes (based on representations from the vendor) that it is 97-percent accurate.
That’s still not high enough for the league to use point of care testing on its own, but it’s a sign that point of care testing is getting closer and closer to where it can supplant the time-consuming process of collecting a sample and sending it away for so-called PCR analysis, which has an accuracy rate closer to 99 percent or higher.
Point of care testing will be the eventual game changer for the league. If the accuracy rate can approach or match the accuracy rate of off-site testing, teams can be more confident that they know, then and there, whether a player, coach, or essential staff member is positive or negative for the virus.
While that’s a separate issue from keeping players, coaches, and essential staff from catching the virus away from the facility, it’s a significant step in the direction of keeping anyone who has it from spreading it once they show up for work.
It is, ultimately, a tangible sign of the technical advances needed to enhance the chances of 256 regular-season games and 13 postseason games being played without significant interruption by an outbreak. Which means that the arrival of point of care testing is very good news for the prospects for the NFL’s 101st season.