Source: NFL’s 77 positive tests return negative

  • ESPN.com national NFL writer
  • ESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013
  • Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008

The NFL has cleared all 77 individuals who tested positive over the weekend for COVID-19, following what the league believes was a testing error in a New Jersey lab, sources told ESPN Monday morning. All of the original test results have been classified as false positives.

A total of 11 teams were affected by the mistake, leading to some anxious moments and altered Sunday practice schedules — but ultimately no evidence of an outbreak. Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen was among those whose initial test resulted in a false positive, forcing him to miss the team’s Sunday practice, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

According to the source, the NFL re-tested the original 77 samples, all of which had been processed at the same BioReference lab in New Jersey. All 77 re-tests came back negative. The league also conducted quicker point-of-care tests on Sunday, and all 77 of those tests were also negative. According to training camp protocol agreed upon by the NFL and the NFL Players Association, the 77 individuals — which includes players, coaches and some staff members — can resume their normal activities Monday.

BioReference, which the NFL hired to conduct all of its COVID-19 testing, uses five labs around the country to process the league’s daily tests. The New Jersey lab was the only one to produce false positives over the weekend. Neither the league nor BioReference has offered a public explanation for the faulty results.

Three of the hardest-hit teams over the weekend were the Minnesota Vikings, who had 12 individuals produce false positive tests, the New York Jets (10) and the Chicago Bears (nine). Those numbers created immediate alarms after the NFL had produced a low infection rate during the first month of training camp. As of Monday morning, only three players remained on the COVID-19 list.

The episode is likely to influence discussions between the NFL and NFL Players Association, who are working to finalize regular season testing protocols. The sides must decide whether to continue daily testing, which expires Sept. 5, and also create a policy for weeding out false positives when determining eligibility for games.

During training camp, all positive test results are followed by two additional tests over a 24-hour period. If both of those tests come back negative, the original test is classified as a false positive.

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