The worst case scenario for the upcoming football season is that a bunch of players contract the coronavirus. That's obvious.
But the next worse case scenario is that a bunch of players test positive for a virus they never really had, bringing on all the negative external outcomes--missed games, general anxiety--for no reason at all.
Over the weekend, the NFL experienced a dry run for that Defcon 1 scenario when 77 tests came back positive, and all 77 turned out to be false positives.
All 77 came from BioReference Laboratories in New Jersey, one of five labs the NFL has contracted to handle its tests.
“On August 22, BioReference Laboratories reported an elevated number of positive COVID-19 PCR test results for NFL players and personnel at multiple clubs,” the lab’s statement said. “The NFL immediately took necessary actions to ensure the safety of the players and personnel. Our investigation indicated that these were most likely false positive results, caused by an isolated contamination during test preparation in the New Jersey laboratory. Reagents, analyzers and staff were all ruled out as possible causes and subsequent testing has indicated that the issue has been resolved. All individuals impacted have been confirmed negative and informed.”
The NFL had all 77 positives re-tested, and also conducted point-of-care tests on all 77 individuals, which all came back negative.
The 77 tests were spread across 11 teams, with the Vikings, Jets and Bears hardest hit, with at least nine false positives apiece.
According to training camp protocols agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA, all 77 individuals were sat out activities on Sunday, but can resume to work on Monday. The NFL and NFLPA's agreement dictates that two negative tests over a 24-hour period can determine a previous positive to be a false positive.
Obviously, missing the activities of Sunday, Aug. 23 is not a big deal. Missing a Sunday from Sept. 13 on is a different story.
The NFL's current testing protocols--which calls for daily testing--expires Sept. 5. The two sides are in the process of finalizing their regular season protocols, and the events of this weekend are sure to be fresh on both sides' minds.
And as (some) college football conferences gear up for their own seasons, having a strategy to weed out the false positives from the positives, and the false negatives from the true negatives, should be top of mind as well.