Joe Sheehan and Dr. James Voos have spent the last several weeks helping the Browns formulate a plan to ensure players and coaches will be safe from COVID-19 for training camp in Berea.
This week, that plan officially took place. All players and coaches reported to team facilities Tuesday for the first time this year and immediately underwent tests for the virus. That procedure, among many others, will become the standard for all team personnel throughout a season that will look much different than any other in the league's history.
The differences, however, will be for the betterment of the league, and Sheehan, the Browns' Senior Vice President of Player Health & Development, and Dr. Voos, the head team physician, are confident the plans can work.
"We certainly want to remain cautiously optimistic," Voos said in a video call Wednesday alongside Sheehan with local reporters. "There are no guarantees in how this virus is going to behave. What we want to do is assure that we've set up the safest environment possible for the players, both in the physical environment with the education of the players, with testing, and then with that collaboration with other NFL teams and other professional football teams."
Players and coaches will return to the facility each day for the next three days, but only to undergo another COVID-19 test. Then, they'll return to their individual residences for virtual meetings with coaches. A player who tests negative three times will have access inside the facility and can take a physical examination.
From Aug. 3-11, which will be the NFL's acclimation period, players are permitted to work in two 60-minute sessions — one for strength and conditioning in the weight room and the other for on-field conditioning. Teams will also have 60 minutes allocated for team walk-throughs on the first four days and 75 minutes for walk-throughs on the last four days. Aug. 8 is also a mandatory off-day.
On Aug. 14, full-team practices may begin, and full-contact practices can start Aug. 17. All the while, players will undergo daily testing for at least the first 14 days and every other day from that point forward.
Social distancing is encouraged at all times in the facilities, and until full-team practices begin, players and coaches are recommended to be six feet apart on the field.
"I think really the NFL and the [NFL]PA have really put together a comprehensive series of protocols that are going to give us the best chance to be successful and play football this fall," Sheehan said. "So we feel good about our plan and we are excited to implement it."
Browns players arrived at the facility Tuesday morning for the start of camp
If a player tests positive, the Browns also have protocols in place to ensure they are safe, contact tracing is implemented and any spread of the virus can be contained. Anyone who tests positive will remain away from the facility and in a safe quarantine space, and any player or team personnel who was in contact with that person will undergo a series of checkpoints and tests to deem what steps they should take next, too.
"The first part of that is we want to assure the well-being of the player, that they're evaluated and that they're safe whether they can be at home or whether they need to be evaluated in a health care setting," Voos said. "Then, once the player has undergone the appropriate time of quarantine and is symptom-free, there are a series and tests and screens that the player undergoes to assure that they are healthy to return to play and that their testing is negative before entering the building so that they can both protect themselves as well as their teammates when they return."
All of the work is going toward ensuring the Browns are as healthy as possible for Week 1 on Sept. 13. Players will still undergo the grind of training camp, and coaches will still have an opportunity to evaluate talent and pick out the best 53 players for the regular season.
But the health of everyone involved comes first. Sheehan and Voos are confident that the Browns are in position to ensure that top priority will be met.
"No sport is 100 percent risk free," Voos said. "We feel like we've positioned ourselves using the best available treatments and best available evidence we have to keep our players safe. Certainly this is a very fluid process that we'll have to monitor on a regular basis, but our goal is to have a safe, healthy season for the players. We'll take this week-by-week, day-by-day to assure we're providing the best environment possible."
Check out behind the scenes photos of the Browns' practice facility in Berea