OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The NFL insisted Wednesday that it did not cut any corners with contact tracing after learning that Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant had tested positive for coronavirus a half hour before kickoff against the Dallas Cowboys.
Bryant was on the field participating in individual warm-ups about an hour before the Ravens were notified of his inconclusive test result. By that point, Bryant was seen hugging and talking with players, including former teammates with the Cowboys, without wearing a mask.
But the NFL did not identify any high-risk close contacts after interviewing Bryant as well as other club personnel and reviewing data from his contact-proximity tracker.
“I can tell you with complete certainty that our same exact contact-tracing process was followed last night as what we do in every single case,” said Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer. “The fact that we were able to do it fairly quickly is not reflective of a lack of thoroughness in the process. It’s just simply the amount of data that was available to be sorted through allowed us to do that.”
Sills said the fact that a decision was made so quickly on close contacts was a reflection of the league’s intensive protocol and the “tremendous job” the Ravens have done with compliance around their facility leading up to the game.
According to Sills, the factors that go into determining high-risk close contacts are: cumulative exposure time, the distance, the ventilation available and the use of a mask.
“We took all of the data we had in hand and made the safest possible decision,” Sills said. “All interactions are not created equal when it comes to risk.”
Bryant was among one of the first players on the field at M&T Bank on Tuesday night, catching passes from quarterback Trace McSorley around 6 p.m.
Shortly before 7 p.m., the lab notified the Ravens that Bryant’s test from Tuesday morning was inconclusive. Two minutes later, Bryant was removed from the locker room and placed in an isolation room in the stadium.
Around 7:30 p.m., Bryant’s latest test returned a positive result. He was immediately ruled out.
“The test was not resulted when pregame warm-ups began,” Sills said. “No one took part in any team activity with any partial test result.”
Because results didn’t come in until the evening, Bryant would’ve played if the game had started at 1 p.m. or 4 p.m.
“We know we have had positive players that have played on game day — not with our knowledge,” Sills said. “But there have been unfortunately instances during the season where a player was tested in the morning and the game was played and we did not get a result until overnight or until the next morning of a positive test. That has happened before. It did not happen in this situation.”
The Ravens were recently involved in one of the biggest outbreaks in sports, when at least a dozen players tested positive. But Bryant’s positive test was the first one on the team in a week.
Sills doesn’t believe Bryant’s positive test is linked to the other outbreak.
“We don’t have any evidence to suspect that at the present time,” Sills said. “It would not be supported by the normal incubation period.”