ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Bills GM Brandon Beane summed up the NFL’s current COVID situation very succinctly.
“We don’t have it figured out. We don’t have it under control.”
A Bills training staffer–who was vaccinated–tested positive for COVID Tuesday morning after feeling something thought not to ‘be anything major’. The staffer was then interviewed to determine if he had been a close contact with any players, coaches or other staff.
Four players have been deemed close contacts to the staffer and must now sit out five days. Cole Beasley, Gabe Davis and Star Lotulelei were all sent home before practice. Vernon Butler did practice on Tuesday, but was also determined to be a close contact.
The five day isolation period begins whenever the player last came in contact with the infected person. It’s possible that window might start early enough to allow some of the players to be active for the preseason finale against the Packers on Saturday. It may not matter. Those four have seen very little playing time in the first two preseason games and easily could be on the bench anyway against Green Bay.
Beane said Butler’s status as a close contact took the team by surprise. His suspicion is that the staffer did not think a close contact from more than 24 hours ago was something that needed to be included in his interview and failed to mention Butler as a possible issue.
The team is confident Butler did not have enough “viral load” to be a problem as a spreader at practice Tuesday. He had tested negative before practice.
Matt Milano and A.J. Klein were also sent home before practice because of a possibility to end up a close contact. However, neither is an issue and both will be back at practice Wednesday.
The NFL determines which players will be deemed a close contact and, therefore, subject to the league’s safety protocols. Beane said all possible close contacts were immediately tested at the team facility. So far, there have been no other positive tests. He also said the staffer that tested positive is doing all right.
The Bills are still not yet out of the woods with this COVID issue.
“We’ll definitely cross our fingers the next few days and hope that no one else pops up,” Beane said. “That’s the biggest thing–to keep from a spread.”
When training camp began, the Bills had slightly more than 80 percent of the players vaccinated. The growth in vaccinations has plateaued since and Beane admitted that the five players released today might have dropped the Bills back below the 80 percent threshold.
Even though the Pfizer vaccine has now been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Beane did not think it would have much of an effect on adding to the team’s vaccinated group. He speculated that this week’s minor (so far) outbreak could push some players to get the vaccine.
“These guys, they’re all pretty well educated,” Beane said. “It’s an independent personal decision. It’s not a mandatory thing that’s agreed upon between the league and the union. I don’t have a specific number of players that said, ‘Hey, if the FDA approves this, I’ll get it or not’.”
Beane says this is a reminder that there are things he can’t control this season. The Bills will do their best to be prepared, appreciate when their COVID protocols don’t have to be employed and hope everyone in the organization stays safe.
“I think I’m numb to the fact that when we come in here every day, you’re just glad everybody is negative,” Beane said. “Expect the unexpected. We just have to deal with the cards that are dealt.”