The Matthew Stafford situation forced the NFL and NFL Players Association to revisit its COVID-19 testing protocols to address the dynamic of false positives. Per multiple reports, the NFL and NFLPA have unveiled a revised protocol aimed at addressing, and rectifying, the possibility of false positives.
Although the memo doesn’t use the term “false positive,” the adjustments to the procedures are intended to give players who test positive and who have no symptoms a quicker path back to practice and/or games.
It’s smart, it’s practical, and it’s fair. If a player has a false positive, he shouldn’t be knocked out of game preparations or, even worse, a game.
But here’s the unspoken donut hole in the NFL’s adjustment to the testing policy: Both false positives and false negatives happen. But the procedures aren’t being adjusted to address false negatives. And false negatives, unlike false positives, pose a very real risk of an outbreak.
Any player or coach who slips through the cracks with a false negative can shed virus on coworkers or opponents before a true positive test identifies the person’s actual status. By then, the damage could be done.
Unless and until the rate of false outcomes reduces to zero, the testing protocol will have inherent flaws. And while steps can be taken to eradicate false positives, nothing can be done to rectify false negatives until the next test is taken.
As the NFL continues to inch toward a season that will in many ways amount to an experiment, the ongoing threat of false negatives renders the whole operation a house of cards that remains at the mercy of a gust of wind.