The NFL's COVID-19 finding that saved the season

The NFL was slowly discovering something far deeper: a core tenet of Covid-19 transmission wisdom—how to define when individuals are in “close contact”—was just wrong.

The safety of interactions during this global pandemic had been for months measured by a stopwatch and a tape measure. The guidance was that someone had been exposed to the virus if they had been within six feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes. It was drilled into everyone for so long it became coronavirus gospel.

But that wasn’t proving true during the NFL’s outbreaks. People were testing positive for the virus even though they had spent far less than 15 minutes or weren’t within six feet of an infectious person—and the league had the contact-tracing technology to prove it.

“That was a wake-up call,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “We had to be more precise in our definition of high-risk close contacts because clearly transmission could occur outside those basic boundaries of time and distance.”