ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Following the Broncos' announcement that President/CEO Joe Ellis and President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway have tested positive for COVID-19, NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills said the NFL has remained in close communication with the Broncos and does not see evidence of extensive transmission within the facility.
"It's certainly a concerning situation for us, and we've been in extremely detailed and regular contact with the Broncos' organization," Sills said Tuesday on a conference call. "They've been incredibly cooperative with us and again share the same exact goal we do, which is getting a handle on any transmission that might be going on. I know that everyone in the organization, the coaching staff, the medical staff, players — everyone — is concerned and working with us on that. I think that, again, we know that there are areas in the country which are really spiking with numbers of cases. That increases vulnerability. We have to look at where we think are likely sources of infection. To date, we've not seen transmission as extensively within the building there as we have coming from outside. But again, we are taking additional steps in Denver as we have in other situations to try to block off any transmission or any vulnerability and continue to monitor that.
"To date, there's only been one player that's affected. We've been working very closely with that club, [and] we'll continue to do so. We've talked with the local public health authorities there in the state as well, and all of us share the same concern. Again, we have the data on who has been in contact with who and how much risk and exposure there is to different individuals. I think the club again has done an excellent job in implementing our intensive protocols to minimize exposure within the team facility. At this point, we feel comfortable that there's not ongoing transmission among the players and the day-to-day operations, but it's something that we're going to have to continue to monitor very carefully."
The Broncos, who have been in the NFL's intensive protocols since Running Backs Coach Curtis Modkins tested positive for the virus ahead of Week 6, have placed just one player — guard Graham Glasgow — on the Reserve/COVID-19 list since the start of the regular season. Modkins has since returned to the facility.
Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak and Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell did not coach on Sunday against the Chargers due to COVID-19 protocols.
Sills said as the NFL works with the Broncos, there is "nothing unique" about how the league will determine any high-risk contacts for Ellis, Elway or any other staff members who may test positive in the future.
"From a medical standpoint, there's no difference between players, coaches or staff members," Sills said. "They're all patients. They're all people that — first and foremost — we want to have them cared for and make sure they get the appropriate medical care. But the contact-tracing piece is exactly the same. If they're in and around the team environment, they're wearing the contact-tracing devices. So we have the same information on them that we have on players. And we go through the exact same steps. There's really no difference in how they're treated with anyone else. We're zeroing in on trying to identify high-risk contacts. We're interviewing the person who is infected and any of those contacts trying to gain as much information as we can. From that standpoint, sort of everyone's equal. I think that's the same with the virus. In [regards] to the virus, everyone's equal there."
Sills said the NFL believes "with a reasonably high degree of certainty" that neither Ellis nor Elway contracted the virus at UCHealth Training Center or Empower Field at Mile High.
"It came from outside the building," Sills said. "So someone who was exposed outside the facility became infected, and again, back to our original goal, we want to seal that individual off and make sure that we don't allow the virus to be spread within the building. I think that's an important distinction. As virus levels surge within the community, people are going to get more exposed outside the building, and that's where they get infected. The job of our protocols and our mission is really to identify that as quickly as we can and keep it sealed off within the building."
Sills stressed that clubs around the NFL must continue to be vigilant both at and away from the facility, and he announced that the league has encouraged players to wear masks both in the locker room and on the sideline during game day.
Despite a limited number of positive tests, Sills said he believed all 32 teams have exerted "a tremendous amount of effort" into following the protocols.
"Everyone's trying to do the right thing here," Sills said. "They've modified their facilities, they've modified their practice routines, they've modified their equipment. That has been across the board across all 32 [teams]. We all continue to learn. There's clearly things, just like we're talking about today, that we recognize now there are gaps and places where we'd like to address risk, and that's just based on what we've seen. This is an incredibly tough opponent. We've said all along, this is a very hard job. This is an easily transmitted virus and we see that the levels are rising in the community, so that just puts us all at greater risk.
"… I think that we can feel our clubs have done a really good job overall, but by no means is the work done. It's going to get harder. We've said that repeatedly, as well, that these levels appear to be spiking. That's going to put us all more at risk. … All of our clubs have worked really hard on this, and when we have had cases with a club, including the ones we've discussed today, they're our partners. This isn't the league against a club. We're all partners in this together and, really, partners between teams as well. We've said all along, in this NFL season, this isn't about the Raiders against the Steelers or the Packers against the Vikings. This is about all of us against the virus."