Masked men will reveal the unvaccinated as NFL training camps open

Chargers coach Brandon Staley looks on as rookies work out during a minicamp.
Mask requirements will be loosened for vaccinated players and coaches such as Chargers head coach Brandon Staley.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The NFL is easing back into the good old days.

Teams kick off training camps this week — both the Rams and Chargers open Wednesday — and those summer traditions will be reminiscent of the pre-COVID-19 era, with some noticeable changes.

Those players who have not been vaccinated, and there are relatively few of them, will be operating under 2020 guidelines. That means they will undergo daily testing, are required to wear masks in the club facilities and during travel, must be physically distanced in the meal room and cannot eat with their teammates, cannot use the sauna or steam room, etc.

Most of those rules are relaxed for players who have gotten the vaccine. No daily testing, no masks — although the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations could change that — no restrictions on gathering with teammates, travel or using club facilities.

“I don’t want to get into the exact numbers, but we’re really close to 100% of our players having the vaccination,” Rams coach Sean McVay said this week. “Some of those guys were in the process of getting that started within the last week.”


Asked if he expects the team to be fully vaccinated by the start of the season, McVay said: “I would say it will be around there. If certain guys feel adamant that they don’t want to — totally respect and understand that. I think for me as a coach, you want to be understanding of it. … I feel like we’re in a really good place and it’s not going to be any reason for it to be a distraction to our team.”

NFL players need to wake up and get vaccinated. Those who don’t put their teammates in jeopardy in more ways than affecting the outcome of a game.

July 26, 2021

After their numbers lagged through training camp, the Chargers saw their situation improve dramatically in recent days. They are now close to having 90% of their players fully vaccinated or in the process of becoming fully vaccinated, said a league source not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Last month, the Chargers remained among the league’s least vaccinated teams. At the conclusion of OTAs, quarterback Justin Herbert characterized the number of players on the team who were vaccinated as “a small group of guys.”

“These things have a way of working themselves out the closer you get to competition,” coach Brandon Staley said in June. “I know that our players are fully aware of what’s at stake.”

The Chargers players have since proved their coach right.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the 32 clubs last week informing them that if a game cannot be rescheduled because of a COVID-19 outbreak among unvaccinated players, the team with the outbreak will forfeit the game and be credited with a loss — and neither teams’ players will be paid their salary for that week.

On Tuesday, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people wear masks indoors when in areas with “substantial” and “high” transmission of the virus.


The Rams have many roster questions that must be answered as training camp practices begin Wednesday, including who will replace injured running back Cam Akers.

July 26, 2021

Asked how that might affect NFL guidelines, a league spokesman said: “We continue to be in close communication with the CDC and will review its recommendations to evaluate if we need to adapt our jointly developed NFL-NFLPA protocols.”

Among those protocols:

What happens when a vaccinated person tests positive?

If that person is asymptomatic, he or she will be isolated and the team will conduct contact tracing. The infected person can return after two negative tests conducted at least 24 hours apart and will be tested every two weeks moving forward.

What if it’s someone who is unvaccinated?

Last season’s rules apply. That means the person will be isolated for 10 days then, if asymptomatic, permitted to return. Also, an unvaccinated person is subject to a five-day quarantine period if he or she has close contact with an infected individual.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford walks on the field after a May practice in Thousand Oaks.
Players such as Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford won’t be required to wear a mask at training camp practices if they have received their vaccination.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press

How about if someone already has had COVID-19? Do they need to have the vaccine?

A person who already has had the virus will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after at least one dose of an approved vaccine.

Will there be a 19th week added to the season to accommodate postponed games that can’t be rescheduled?

No. As of now, the NFL does not plan to add an extra week to the season. That was always a possibility last season.

Is the NFL going to be as flexible as it was last season in terms of postponing games?

Not really. If a team isn’t ready to play at the scheduled time and place, that will be considered conduct detrimental. Postponements only will happen if required by governmental authorities, medical experts or at the discretion of the commissioner.


Justin Herbert, the NFL offensive rookie of the year, begins Chargers camp as a big-name quarterback. He was an unknown at Oregon just five years ago.

July 27, 2021

If a game has to be canceled because of a COVID spike among unvaccinated players, who shoulders the financial burden?

The infected team in question. The NFL says it will look to minimize the burden on the opposing team. What’s more, the commissioner retains the right to impose additional sanctions.

But what if that spike happens among vaccinated players?

In that case, the NFL says it will look to minimize the competitive and financial burden on both clubs.

Who pays for all the testing?


The NFL will pay the first $400,000 of a team’s testing costs, but everything beyond that is the responsibility of the individual clubs.

Can a player be cut if he opts not to get vaccinated?

Not solely based on that. But if you’re an on-the-bubble player, you want to be as convenient and available as possible. Coaches don’t have the same protections or collective bargaining agreement, however. Last week, Rick Dennison, offensive line coach and run game coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings, parted ways with the team because he declined to get vaccinated. He rejoined the Vikings this week as a senior offensive advisor, but cannot be around the players in person.

Times staff writer Jeff Miller contributed to this report.