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NFL and NBA are facing a sharp increase in virus cases, with stars sidelined in both leagues

The Browns had eight players test positive for the coronavirus. (Terrance Williams/AP)
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IRVING, Tex. — The NFL continued to deal with a sharp increase in coronavirus cases Tuesday as 28 players tested positive, according to a person familiar with the results.

That brought the NFL’s two-day total to 65 positive tests by players, representing the league’s most widespread coronavirus-related challenge of the season — and taking place at a time when other sports leagues are facing similar issues.

Eight Cleveland Browns players tested positive Tuesday. The Los Angeles Rams placed nine players, including wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., on their covid-19 reserve list while activating one player who had been placed on the list Monday. The clusters of cases on the Browns and Rams came one day after 37 players leaguewide had positive test results Monday, the most for the NFL in a day since the pandemic began.

The spike in NFL cases comes as the NBA and NHL were forced to adjust their schedules because of the virus. The NBA announced Monday that it was postponing two games involving the Chicago Bulls — its first virus-related postponements of the season — after an outbreak landed 10 Bulls players and additional team employees in the league’s health and safety protocols. The NHL postponed three games involving the Calgary Flames and postponed a game scheduled for Tuesday between the Carolina Hurricanes and Minnesota Wild.

In the NBA, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden entered the coronavirus protocols Tuesday, the latest sign of mounting coronavirus concerns for the league as its annual Christmas Day showcase games approach. Antetokounmpo was ruled out for Wednesday’s game, the Bucks said. Harden missed a matchup Tuesday with the Raptors.

Per the NBA’s protocols, fully vaccinated players such as Antetokounmpo and Harden are generally exempt from daily testing and must undergo testing only if they are symptomatic, come into close contact with an individual who tests positive or are required to test in compliance with local governmental guidelines. But the NBA instituted enhanced testing of all players regardless of vaccination status in the days after Thanksgiving, and more than 30 players have entered the protocols in December.

The NFL and the NFL Players Association, which jointly develop and oversee that sport’s coronavirus protocols, were engaged in ongoing discussions. The league sent a memo to teams Monday informing them that coaches and other specified team staffers are required to receive vaccine boosters by Dec. 27.

The renewed coronavirus concerns will probably be a leading topic of conversation at the owners’ regularly scheduled December meeting here Wednesday that will include Commissioner Roger Goodell. Larry Ferazani, an attorney for the NFL, addressed team executives during their meeting Tuesday at a Dallas-area hotel and urged them to double down on compliance efforts.

NFL officials often have said that their testing results largely are reflective of the conditions in teams’ surrounding communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that the spread of the omicron variant could lead to a massive wave of infections as soon as January. The NFL identified its first known omicron case Monday, according to two people familiar with the situation, involving a Washington Football Team staff member.

The Browns announced Tuesday that they had placed eight players — six from their active roster and two from their practice squad — on their covid-19 reserve list. That group included wide receiver Jarvis Landry, tight end Austin Hooper, offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. and guard Wyatt Teller. The covid-19 reserve list can be used for players who tested positive or were identified through contact tracing as close contacts, but a person familiar with the situation said all eight players tested positive.

The team said it had entered the NFL’s enhanced protocols and that all meetings Tuesday would be conducted remotely. The league’s enhanced protocols include more stringent restrictions and mask-wearing requirements and generally are applied to teams with clusters of cases.

The Browns are scheduled to play Saturday afternoon in Cleveland against the Las Vegas Raiders. There was no immediate change to the status of the game. The NFL has not postponed any games this season, even as teams have continued to deal with virus-related disruptions.

NFL will require booster shots for coaches, some staffers amid increase in coronavirus cases

The Rams did not specify publicly whether their nine players tested positive. But all of the players are vaccinated, according to a person familiar with the situation. Vaccinated players only can be placed on the covid-19 reserve list after a positive test for the virus, given that they are not subject to contact-tracing quarantines under the current protocols.

In addition to Beckham, other Rams players placed on the list Tuesday included tight end Brycen Hopkins and defensive backs Terrell Burgess, Juju Hughes and Jordan Fuller.

The Rams activated tight end Tyler Higbee, who was placed on the covid-19 reserve list Monday. The team reportedly suspected Higbee’s test was a false positive. The Rams announced earlier Tuesday that they were closing their facility and would work remotely through Wednesday. They’re scheduled to play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday in Inglewood, Calif.

The Rams won Monday night at Arizona after placing Higbee and cornerback Jalen Ramsey on their covid-19 reserve list earlier in the day.

“My initial reaction was: You’ve got to be [kidding] me,” Rams Coach Sean McVay said during his postgame news conference.

The Rams had made several coronavirus-related roster moves in recent days.

“To say that I’m not concerned wouldn’t be accurate,” McVay said following Monday’s game. “I think you want to find out a little bit more because, to my understanding, just looking at the landscape of the league, this was as bad as the outbreak’s gotten. And the hard thing is, for some of these guys … there’s no symptoms. They feel great. And that’s what’s unfortunate. And then you get some of these where there’s false positives. And so there’s a lot of mental gymnastics that are going on. But all we can do is try to take safe, precautionary measures.”

The Carolina Panthers placed star running back Christian McCaffrey on their covid-19 reserve list Tuesday. McCaffrey already was on injured reserve and is sidelined for the rest of the season because of an ankle injury. The team declined to say whether McCaffrey tested positive. But he is vaccinated, according to a person familiar with the situation, suggesting that his placement on the list came after a positive test.

There were 29 players placed on covid-19 reserve lists Tuesday — 28 for positive tests and one through contact tracing. Washington added two players to its list, bringing its total to 10.

The NFL has said more than 94 percent of its players are vaccinated. The booster requirement communicated to teams Monday does not apply to players.

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