Inside look at Eagles’ COVID-19 safety precautions

Eliot Shorr-Parks
July 28, 2020 - 11:41 am
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Eagles training camp is here, and by the end of the day Tuesday, likely every player on the roster will have reported to the NovaCare Complex to be tested for COVID-19. 

Players will not be allowed in the building until they successfully pass two COVID tests, which means their first trip to the practice facility since the end of last season will be a short one.  

Once they are given the clearance to enter, however, they will be going into a NovaCare Complex that they might not recognize. 

On the latest episode of Eagles Insider, the team’s official insider podcast, Eagles director of sports medicine Tom Hunkele explained just how many changes have been made to the practice facility, what the protocols will be for players to get into the building and what would happen if a player started to feel sick once they were inside. 

Here is everything fans should know about what the NovaCare Complex will be like for players this season:

Tiers:

Everybody that enters the NovaCare Complex this season will be designated into tiers. 

As a reminder, here is what the tiers look like: 

Tier 1: Players, coaches, staff members that have a ton of contact with players

Tier 2: Somebody that has interaction with the players or Tier 1 individuals, but it is on more of a limited basis. Not in the locker room, not in the weight room, but is on the field (for example)

Tier 3: Doesn’t need access to the player. Restricted from Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas

Your tier designation will decide who you can have contact with, where in the building you can go and what entrance you walk through to enter the building. 

Entering the NovaCare

Prior to coming to the NovaCare Complex on a given day, players, staff and team employees will be asked to answer questions on an app. That questionnaire will give the players, staff or team employee a code that they will use to scan to get into the facility. If the answers to the questions raise a red flag, and something pings, that person will be contacted by the medical staff to make sure everything is OK and decide which steps need to be taken next. 

Once you answer the questionnaire and enter the NovaCare parking lot, you park your car, go into a tent set up outside the entrance to the facility and get the nasal swab for the COVID-19 test. As a league rule decided by the NFL and NFLPA, testing will take place everyday for the first two weeks. If after two weeks the positive rate is below 5%, the testing will drop to every other day. 

In addition to being tested, anyone entering the NovaCare will stand infront of a thermal camera that takes your temperature, to make sure it is below 100.4. From there, you will enter through an automated, toucheless entrance and be given a contact tracer so the doctors know where you go in the building throughout the day. The contact tracer will help to know who might have been exposed if somebody with COVID does enter the building. 

Inside the NovaCare

The NovaCare will look a lot different this season. It sounds like it is covered in signs to help everyone remember what they should be doing. 

“The first thing you would notice if you were to walk around right now is there is a lot of signage all over the place. As far as physical distancing measures, directional — if we can have two different hallways, one going one way, one going an opposite way,” Hunkele said.  “Everything about how to follow the CDC guidelines, make sure you are wearing your PPE (masks), which you need to do. Good hand hygiene. And lots of physical changes that have happened too. Things that if you have been in the building before would be different.” 

As expected, everyone inside of the NovaCare building will be required to wear a mask at all times. 

“No excuses, no exceptions, absolutely a must,” Hunkele said. 

Meeting Rooms

While some meetings will be held virtually this season, there will be meetings that take place inside the NovaCare. The team has made plenty of changes to the facility to accommodate what will be an 80-man roster, plus coaches, for training camp.

“Meeting rooms have been knocked down and made larger,” Hunkele said. “A good portion of the Eagles organization right now is working virtually so we have been able to take over other areas of the facility to be able to expand where we can meet with our players.”

For larger meetings, it sounds like the team will be going across the street to Lincoln Financial Field. 

“Some of the meetings room met those requirements for the roster size in training camp, and some didn’t. So they have made the changes to the facility to be able to incorporate meetings of our positions throughout the year,” Hunkele said. “There have also been decisions made that we will do some of our meetings in training camp, once we are at full roster size just because of how many players we have, over at Lincoln Financial Field. It offers us a much larger space to be able to adequately social distance.”

Weight Rooms

The NFL and NFLPA have agreed upon certain rules for players working out inside the facility, with a limited amount of players allowed to be working out at the same time. 

While the Eagles have a fairly large weight-lifting space, that is located right off the practice field, it still is not big enough to accommodate the entire team at once. To make space for everyone to lift the team has essentially built two extra weight rooms. 

“They have taken down two windows that looked out to the field and made them into temporary doors,” Hunkele said. “We have a very large weight-room tent that has almost two separate weight rooms to the left and to the right.”

Having multiple weight rooms will allow one group to lift in one of the rooms while another room is being sanitized. Each room is throughly sanitized after being used. The same is taking place with the training room — each station is being thoroughly sanitized after a player uses it or is treated on it. 

Locker Rooms

One of the more shocking revelations earlier this offseason when the guidelines for the 2020 NFL season came out was that lockers in the locker room would be required to be six-feet apart. 

To meet that requirement, the Eagles locker room has undergone some changes. 

“The locker are spaced out. We are using every other locker. There is a row of lockers in the middle, but every chair and every locker is at least seven feet apart,” Hunkele said. “We have had to take over the player’s lounge area. Take all of the items out of that to utilize that space, as well as bring in extra lockers so that we could fit all of our players into the locker room, as opposed to having to do a whole separate tent on the outside for some of the players.”

Right now the Eagles roster stands at 82 players, but by this time next month, they will have 53 plus (presumably) 16 players on the practice squad, bringing that total to 69. 

Cafeteria 

One of the main hangout spots for players in the past has been the cafeteria, where they often eat breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner. 

This year, that will look very different, as all of the tables inside the cafeteria has been removed. 

“It is wide open now. No seating in the cafeteria,” Hunkele said. “We have put up tents on the outside, and that is just for the players seating and for them to be able to socially distance and eat.”

Players will still be given food, but not buffet style, and it seems like all eating will be taking place outside in tents while sitting six feet apart. 

If A Player Gets Sick Inside the NovaCare

Nobody can control when a player might start to feel COVID-19 symptoms. It is possible a player could feel fine in the morning, pass all the protocols, enters the facility but then start to feel sick. 

The Eagles have a plan in place for what to do if that happens. 

“If a player fees sick during the day, the medical staff will be notified, and we just kind of activate what the NFL/NFLPA protocol is going to be. We will isolate them out, we have a tent that is outside the facility so we can get them out of that enclosed space as quick as possible. We will be in our PPE to protect ourselves, the athlete will be in a mask,” Hunkele said. “From there it is finding out what the symptoms are, contacting our physicians, having them guide us into the next step, getting them tested if they need to be tested, and really, truly getting them isolated and away from the facility back at home. As we continue along, it is a matter of continuing to provide the medical care necessary. Monitoring the progression, whether they do have COVID or whether they have another illness. This is going through all the protocols that we need to to make sure they are safe and the rest of the facility, staff, players are safe as well”

Practice Field Protocols 

The Eagles won’t be taking part in live football practices until mid-August. When they do, the reality is that it will be impossible to social distance during a play. 

When the players are not taking part in a drill or a live snap, however, it sounds like they will be encouraged to stand six-feet apart. 

“When you are out on the field and you are lined up in formation and you are about to run a play, you can’t stand six-feet apart,” Hunkele said. “For the times you are not out there, we can (socially distance). It is going to be on us to keep that in everybody’s head, to become part of the norm.”

Players will have their own water bottles during practice, and each towel will be single-use. 

As far as masks, it sounds like everybody that isn’t a coach or player will be wearing one out on the practice field. Players and coaches will have some options when it comes to wearing a mask. 

“Anytime that we can continue to use PPE is going to beneficial in trying to mitigate the risk. I know as far as myself and other staff members, we will be wearing a mask on the field even though it is outside. For some of our coaches, I believe they will be able to do it. Some may want to transition to more of a face shield and not a mask in the heat,” Hunkele said. “For the players, it becomes difficult. The player are really physically exerting themselves. For them it is not quite as easy. I know there are some players that might try to have some sort of solution, I know the league is trying in corporation with many different companies — Under Armour, Oakley, New Era — there are a a whole host of things they are trying to come up with for masks. So we don’t have the definitive answer that is exactly what every person will be doing, but I can tell you that those who are not players are encouraged to use the mask so that we can keep everybody safe as possible.”

Overall

There is no question this year is going to be different. The rules in place now might change as the country continues to deal with and adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After spending an entire offseason preparing for training camp and the regular season, however, Hunkele and the Eagles feel confident they have the correct safety measures in place to get back to work. 

“I haver had a high level of confidence for sure. As a medical staff we have been in there throughout this entire time, taking care of the individuals that we needed to take care of — those who had surgeries, those who are injured, those (injuries) don’t just go away,” Hunkele  said. “So we have seen these protocols, these measures all develop as the organization has vetted different processes, has looked at the science and has followed the CDC guidelines. I can say with extreme confidence I am extremely proud of being a part of the team and being a part of that, getting it up and running. Our facility, what we are going to offer our staff and our players, it is safer than any other place they could be.”

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!

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