How the NFL is playing through COVID-19, and in the process, exposing the 'casedemic'

Follow the science.

How is it that the NFL has been able to keep its jet-setting roster of thousands of athletes, coaches, and staff largely COVID-free, while religiously testing these employees for COVID-19, while the rest of America registers some 40,000 new reported “cases” each day?

Hint: It has nothing to do with masks, Andy Reid’s face shields, or some type of collective, incredibly responsible human behavior exhibited by men in their twenties and thirties.

The NFL has set a science-based standard for COVID-19 testing, one that our schools, universities, local governments, and other institutions with sufficient resources can learn a lot from. At the same time, the league has unintentionally added evidence to the reality of a massive, ongoing false positive “casedemic” in the United States.

The NFL is keeping its players on the field by quietly sticking to the science (and I suspect other major sports are following a similar protocol). No, not “THE SCIENCE!” espoused by hysterical government bureaucrats and pandemic panic salesmen on television. Real science. The kind of science that is defined through experiments, observation, and experience.

Before we get there, here’s the reality about COVID-19 testing in the United States and around the world:

The vast majority of COVID-19 tests don’t work, in the sense that they don’t accurately determine anything. That is because most PCR tests (which is the vast majority testing method in the United States and abroad) are calibrated with way too much sensitivity (known as having too high of a cycle threshold), and they identify an astonishingly high number of false positives. 

Don’t take it from me, a widespread investigation conducted by The New York Times last month found that up to “90 percent of people testing positive carried barely any virus,” meaning, most people who have been told that they have COVID-19 don’t really have COVID-19.

How did this happen?

Since the mad rush to “combat” the novel coronavirus began 6 months ago, the FDA has been churning out emergency use authorization for coronavirus tests at an average of almost one approval per day. The insistence that everyone must be tested, on a regular basis, with or without symptoms, has created overwhelming demand for coronavirus testing, and an unintentional incentive to “find” COVID cases, but the all-important oversight responsibility of vetting the accuracy of these tests has somehow fallen by the wayside. Now many months into the pandemic, it’s become incredibly clear that the PCR tests are both unsuitable for determining a diagnosis, in addition to having parameters that are useless in determining infected individuals.

Unlike many of the frenzied “public health experts” in government and the television talking heads, the NFL is well aware of the PCR testing issue. 

In an interview last month, the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, went into detail about the PCR cycle threshold problem. I tweeted out the highlighted testing portion here: 

The league has had well-defined testing protocols in place since the season began. When an athlete or staff member tests positive on the PCR method, the league does not hit the panic button (as observed in other institutions such as schools and local governments) and announce the results to the press, while remarking that the end is near. Instead, the NFL immediately deploys resources to determine whether or not they are in fact COVID-19 positive. 

ESPN reported: “An initial positive test will continue to be followed by two more tests, a nasal swab to be assessed in a lab as well as a point-of-care test. Players, coaches and other staff members whose initial test results are positive must still isolate from the team while awaiting the additional test results. But they now can be cleared on the same day if both test results immediately come back negative.”

The league’s system worked wonders in August, when the PCR method generated 77 supposed positives, but further point of care testing revealed that all 77 tests were false positives.

In a COVID-19 protocols document released Monday, The NFL again pointed to the importance of setting a correct cycle threshold for PCR testing in order to get an accurate determination. 

“The PCR test will be set to a cycle threshold as determined by the Parties, following review of testing data and consultation with their respective experts,” the document states. And again, the PCR test is just step one of the NFL’s testing process. 

It remains unclear what the agreed upon cycle threshold number is. I will update this piece when I receive this information. 

Of course, this does not guarantee that the NFL will be able to avoid potential COVID-19 outbreaks. On Tuesday, the Tennessee Titans announced that several personnel had been confirmed as positive cases, albeit, asymptomatic cases. It’s also unclear whether the tests have faced additional scrutiny beyond double lab testing.

COVID-19 is statistically harmless in professional athletes, who almost always report having either mild or no symptoms. There’s always the chance that the NFL could become gripped by COVID mania, but if cooler heads do indeed prevail, the system they have in place virtually guarantees the league will be able to complete a successful season. Don’t be surprised if the Titans announce Wednesday that the confirmed lab tests were not in fact COVID-19 positive cases.

As a private enterprise that is attempting to keep its employees both healthy and on the job, the National Football League is a case study of what happens when you are incentivized to follow the real science, which means calibrating testing to avoid false positives, and minimizing shoddy results. In doing so, the NFL has both offered a blueprint for managing COVID hysteria, and has exposed our countrywide “casedemic” problem for what it is.