February 5, 2021

CNN's New Day looks at how the NFL got through an entire season during a pandemic. How did they do it?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL doctor in charge of their program.

"This is a sport defined by close contact. An environment ripe for transmission. As other people who say, it's absolutely ludicrous to even try this, what do you say to them?" he asked.

"I feel like it's the right thing to do to try to learn to live with this virus. I really do," Sills said.

Sills is the chief medical officer for the NFL and was brought in as a neurosurgeon who thought he'd be dealing with concussions. and then the pandemic changed everything.

"Now right before the Super Bowl, how did things go?"

"I think what we've tried to do at every step is to make the best and safest decisions we can and we've tried to evolve and learn along the way. "

"While cases around the country exploded, now at more than 26 million confirmed, the NFL was relatively untouched. With a positivity rate of 0.08%. So what worked for the NFL? And what can we all learn from it?" Gupta said.

"We had an outbreak in Tennessee, and we went in and really dug into that and tried to understand, how did transmission occur despite our protocols, that's when we began to realize it wasn't just six feet and 15 minutes."

Sills said it wasn't the playing or practices that were the largest concern but these three things -- eating, greeting and meeting.

"Meeting inside. Even if you're more than six feet apart, if you're in a poorly ventilated room for a long period of time, if someone is positive, there can be transmission inside those rooms. Eating together, very high risk activity. Most people don't have a mask on when they're eating. And then the greeting part is just the social interactions outside the facilities. When you interact in the community, if someone is positive and you get a hair cut or have a massage at your house," Sills said.

How did the NFL know? They tested daily and tracked the movements of 11,000 players and staff, even alerting them if they were too close to one another.

"If we move closer together than six feet, you'll start to see it blinking red."

"Keep in mind, the CDC defines close contact like this being within six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period. But the league's data found transmission was occurring with less time and more distance.

"These are considerations for anyone anywhere to assess their risk. Ventilation. Are you indoors or outdoors? Are you in a car with the windows up or are you in a large open stadium? The more air circulation, the better. Masks: what kind of masks are being used, and do they fit correctly? And finally, time and distance. The longer and closer you are around someone, the increase risk for transmission."

"If you're failing in two or more of those categories, that's what we considered a high risk close contact. I think the biggest thing we learned, universal masking works. It's the most effective strategy that we have."

Gupta asked how hard their program would be to replicate.

"It wasn't the fact we tested every single day. It wasn't the fact that everyone wore a fancy proximity tracking device everywhere they went," Sills said.

"What prevented transmission was mask usage, avoiding in-person meetings, staying in the open air environments. Not eating together. Prompt symptom reporting, isolation of anyone that's exposed."

In other words, the same basic rules we've known all along.

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