Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss the start of training camp, coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday.
It’s the second time since November the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player has caught the virus, which sidelined him for a Week 12 road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Harbaugh revealed Jackson’s diagnosis after the team’s first practice, along with announcing that running back Gus Edwards, who was also absent from the session, had contracted the virus. Harbaugh, however, did not provide a timeline for when either player would return to practice. ESPN reported that Edwards would miss the first 10 days of training camp.
Jackson had begun testing last Wednesday for the virus upon reporting to the team’s Owings Mills facility, Harbaugh said, and had tested negative up until Tuesday.
According to NFL policy for the 2021 season, vaccinated players only have to undergo testing once every 14 days. Unvaccinated players must undergo a rapid PCR test upon their arrival to camp and continue to test every day like last season.
In June, Jackson declined to say whether or not he is vaccinated, calling it a personal choice.
Reinfection after an initial natural infection is rare, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an infectious disease physician. People with prior immunity are more protected from severe sickness and hospitalization, Adalja said, but can still contract COVID-19 and spread it.
“It’s a rare occurrence, but [reinfection] should be expected to happen because the virus hasn’t gone anywhere,” he said. “Reinfections are going to occur especially in people who aren’t vaccinated. But the thing is, we can minimize the impact by having as high of a vaccination rate as possible.”
The Ravens’ vaccination rate is in the 90% range and expected to rise, Harbaugh said Wednesday.
Adalja said people should get fully vaccinated irrespective of a previous COVID infection. When vaccines were scarce, the CDC and others recommended those who had been infected with COVID-19 wait 90 days so those with no natural immunity could go first. That doesn’t apply anymore, he said. However, there is emerging data that a single dose of the two-dose vaccines in someone who has been infected in the past is likely sufficient. In other words, even partial vaccination after a natural infection will have more protection than no vaccination at all.
According to a memo shared with teams, an unvaccinated player who tests positive and is not showing symptoms must self-isolate for 10 days. And an unvaccinated player who is deemed to be a close contact to an infected individual must quarantine for five days, like last season’s protocol. A vaccinated player who tests positive and is not showing symptoms can return after producing two negative tests 24 hours apart.
The Ravens’ coaching staff is fully vaccinated — the NFL is mandating all its coaches and assistants receive the shot — along with general manager Eric DeCosta, but team officials have maintained that they would leave the decision up to players.
With the return of fans at the Under Armour Performance Center and training camp underway, the progression of Jackson and the offense’s passing game is a leading storyline for the Ravens, who enter the summer among the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Jackson was present at the team’s offseason workouts in the spring, establishing rapport with returning pass-catchers such as receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and tight end Mark Andrews, along with new additions such as first-round pick Rashod Bateman and veteran wideout Sammy Watkins.
Jackson, entering his fourth NFL season, is also eligible to sign a contract extension, one that is expected to be the richest deal in franchise history. During the offseason, the Ravens exercised Jackson’s fifth-year option, which will keep him in Baltimore through at least the 2022 season. DeCosta has also remained optimistic about reaching a long-term agreement with Jackson.
But it was Jackson’s backups, Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley, who took a majority of the snaps at quarterback for the first practice Wednesday and led the offense. Former Calvert Hall standout Kenji Bahar, who spent time with the Ravens in minicamp, was re-signed and practiced as the third quarterback.
Both McSorley and Huntley, who are vying for the backup quarterback role this summer, looked sharp with Jackson sidelined. They frequently connected with receivers on deep passes and neither signal-caller turned the ball over in team drills.
“I was pleased with them and it’s going to bolster those two guys,” Harbaugh said, “and make those guys stronger than they would have been otherwise, and it helps our team get better.”
“Of course, having the reps with [Jackson] means a lot,” said Brown, a close friend of Jackson. “But for us, as a receiver, if we’re out here working and we’re wide-open, he’s just got to come back and get us the ball. While he’s out, we’ve got to do the best we can to make sure we’re better.”
The Ravens were fined $250,000 last season for COVID-19 protocol violations linked to a teamwide outbreak that forced 23 players, including Jackson, to spend time on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The outbreak, which began in late November and also infected coaches, staff members and family members, forced the league to reschedule two of the Ravens’ games, including thrice postponing the team’s prime-time Thanksgiving matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
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During training camp and the regular season, unvaccinated players will be subject to similar protocols as last season, including daily testing, mask-wearing and travel restrictions. The NFL also informed teams that it does not expect to reschedule games this season in the case of teamwide coronavirus outbreaks. According to a memo shared with teams, if the postponement of a game is caused by an outbreak among unvaccinated players on one team, the team will forfeit the game and players on both teams will not receive game checks.
This story has been updated.
Baltimore Sun reporter Hallie Miller contributed to this report.