Packers coping after running back AJ Dillon tests positive for COVID-19

Tom Silverstein
Packers News
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GREEN BAY - Since the Green Bay Packers began on-field preparations for the 2020 season, coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst made it clear that it was inevitable someone on the team would test positive for COVID-19.

It wasn't an indictment of their players and their behavior but rather a reality of living in a community rife with coronavirus infection.

That reality hit Monday, a day after the Packers suffered a 28-22 thumping at the hands of the division rival Minnesota Vikings, when rookie running back AJ Dillon tested positive for the virus. The NFL's media website,, first reported the positive test and the player involved, and PackersNews confirmed that it was Dillon.

“I was made aware really early this morning," LaFleur said. "It was 6 o’clock, 6:30 maybe. Then they got to run the tests and see where we’re at. We’ve got a couple of guys that we didn’t allow back into the building that had to get the rapid tests as well as the normal COVID test, but they did it through the drive-through.

"We’re just waiting to hear back on all that stuff. But hey, we’ll have a plan for whatever comes our way. It doesn’t change the expectation or the standards that we have for ourselves. We’ll adjust accordingly."

Dillon was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and won't play against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night, per NFL protocols. Dillon played 10 snaps on offense and seven on special teams in the loss to the Vikings.

He is not the first player in the NFL to test positive a day after playing in a game. The Packers have twice this season faced a team who had a player test positive the next day, but this is the first time they have had to deal with it in-house.

It came two days before they are scheduled to fly to the West Coast for the game against the 49ers and sets in motion comprehensive contact tracing to see if any other players were exposed to the virus. The Packers did not initially identify Dillon as the player but issued a statement acknowledging a positive test and the implementation of the NFL's intensive protocol.

Dillon’s positive test was taken prior to the game Sunday. It takes about 18 hours for test results to come back, so the Packers wouldn’t have known about the outcome until Monday morning.

Since players are required to wear electronic tracing devices everywhere they go on team property and the devices register when and for how long a player was within 6 feet of another player, the Packers will be able to determine if anyone else is at risk.

Packers running back A.J. Dillon picks up a first down on a reception during the second quarter of their game Sunday against the Vikings.

Of particular concern will be the other running backs, since they meet together daily. But the players are expected to be at least 6 feet apart during meetings and at all other times they are in the facility.

"Our guys have done a pretty good job of making sure we are not within that 6-feet radius of one another and that we’re spaced out," LaFleur said. "We’ll see what the reports say when they all get done doing all the research that the league has to do.

"But we feel confident that we’ve handled everything as well as we could have."

LaFleur wouldn't say how many players are being considered for close-contact status, but based on his initial statement there appear to be two.

When the estimated injury report for the 49ers game came out inside linebacker Kamal Martin and running back Jamal Williams were both listed as non-participants for reasons other than injury, indicating they are most likely being held out of the facility as close-contact candidates.

It's possible they will not be classified as high-risk contacts, which means they wouldn't have to go on the reserve/COVID-19 list. If they didn't have high-risk contact and don't show symptoms, they will be allowed to take part in team activities provided they test negative Tuesday.

LaFleur said the team allowed players into the facility to get in their normal day-after workouts, but only 10 were allowed in at a time.

As of Monday, LaFleur said that he wasn't expecting the 49ers game to be moved, but until the Packers and the NFL know how many players are affected there will be some question as to whether the game should be moved to Sunday or Monday or postponed for another weekend.

As long as the other players test negative and remain asymptomatic, they should be clear to play Thursday. But if any running backs test positive or show symptoms, it's possible the entire group could be quarantined and then rescheduling the game would have to be considered. In addition to Dillon, that group consists of Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams and practice squad back Dexter Williams.

“All indications that we have is that we are preparing to play on Thursday," LaFleur said. "If they tell us otherwise, we’ll adjust.”

As for Dillon, the soonest he could return would be in five days.

If he has no symptoms, he can return in five days but only then after he has had consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours. If he does have symptoms, he must remain away from the facility for at least 10 days from the onset of the symptoms and at least 72 hours past the time the symptoms went away.

LaFleur said it would still be possible for the Packers to meet and practice this week. He said he probably wouldn't have to change the practice schedule much because typically he only has two very light workouts Tuesday and Wednesday when the team has just three days between games.

As for meetings, LaFleur said they probably could be held in-house because the Packers have the ability to conduct them in large rooms or in one of their two indoor practice facilities. Under the intensive protocol rules, meetings can take place as long as they are in open areas and everyone is wearing a mask.

Players are required to wear masks anytime they are in the facility, so that won't be different, but they will have to wear masks while they are practicing. Quarterbacks are allowed to practice without a glove on their throwing hand but everyone else must wear gloves on both hands.

The likelihood of a Packers player getting infected, even with all the precautions the club has taken, is greatly increased because of the community spread of the virus. The team is living in one of the hottest coronavirus spots in the entire country.

In Brown County, which incorporates Green Bay and surrounding areas, 36.8% of the 4,433 tests taken were positive over the last seven days. Over the last 14 days, the positivity rate is 27.9%

With 1,212.7 cases per 100,000 people, Brown County is rated as "very high" for coronavirus infection.

Ryan Wood and Pete Frank of the Green Bay Press-Gazette contributed to this report.

NFL policy on 'close contact,' 'intensive protocol'

The NFL has specific guidelines for dealing with the coronavirus and among the facets the Packers are learning about are the definitions of “close contact” with an infected person and the “intensive protocol.”

With rookie running back AJ Dillon testing positive for COVID-19, the Packers are conducting contact tracing to see whether any player has had “close contact” with him.

Here are definitions of what the NFL considers to be close contact:

* Living in the same household.

* Being within 6 feet of someone for about 10 minutes.

* Having direct physical contact with an infected individual during practice.

* Handling uniforms, equipment or a shared object used by an infected individual.

As a result of the positive test, the Packers said in a statement that they have entered into the NFL's intensive protocol. Among the actions required are:

* A second rapid test given before anyone enters the facility and on game day.

* No in-person contacts among players and staff outside the facility.

* Masks worn on the practice field by players and staff at all times.

* Gloves worn on the field by all players except quarterbacks, who may leave the throwing hand uncovered.

* Locker room access discouraged and limited to a maximum of 15 minutes.

* Weight room limited to no more than 10 players at any time.

Daily deep cleaning of the facility.

The NFL will inform the team when it no longer has to implement the intensive protocol.

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