Ravens wide receiver Dez Bryant was allowed to warm up before Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys, risking possible exposure of COVID-19, because the NFL had yet to receive his test results, the league’s chief medical officer said Wednesday.
In one of this season’s most bizarre scenes, Bryant was ruled out a half-hour before kickoff in Baltimore, minutes after he wrote on Twitter that he’d tested positive for the coronavirus. The Ravens later went on to rout Dallas, the team for which Bryant had once starred.
The results surprised not only Bryant — “This [expletive] do not make sense to me,” he tweeted — but also a Ravens team that had moved past a debilitating outbreak, one of the worst in sports. When players arrived early Tuesday evening at M&T Bank Stadium, there were no results available from PCR tests taken that morning, according to Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s top medical official.
After Bryant’s first test was inconclusive, the sample was automatically retested, which produced another inconclusive result, Sills said in a conference call. When the NFL and the Ravens were notified, reportedly about an hour before kickoff, Bryant was removed from team activities and administered a point-of-care PCR test. The rapid-result test returned a positive result, and Bryant was sent home to self-quarantine.
“We literally got notified of the initial result and the rerun within a matter of a minute’s time, and as soon as we and the team had that information, then we acted upon it,” Sills said.
Because of the turnaround time for the NFL’s more accurate PCR tests, three Ravens players this season — cornerback Marlon Humphrey and running backs Mark Ingram II and J.K. Dobbins — have played in games despite returning a positive test. But Sills said it’s the league’s policy to bar players from team facilities when there is a test result that “either suggests a positive test or one that’s under investigation.”
After Bryant tested positive, the NFL determined through its contact-tracing process that there were no “high-risk” close contacts, who would’ve had to miss the game. Questions arose after photographs emerged of Bryant greeting several Cowboys players on the field pregame, including once with his neck gaiter below his chin as he shook hands with Dallas linebacker Justin March.
But Sills said that after reviewing information from interviews with Bryant and others, along with data from players’ Kinexon proximity-tracking devices, the NFL determined that there was no need to remove any team personnel from the game besides Bryant.
“We took all of the data that we had at hand and made the safest possible decision,” Sills said, adding that the NFL considers cumulative exposure time, distance from an infected person, available ventilation and mask usage in its decision-making. “All interactions are not created equal when it comes to risk.”
Bryant is the first Ravens player to test positive since rookie safety Geno Stone, who was ruled out of their Week 12 game against the Steelers shortly before the team boarded a Dec. 1 flight to Pittsburgh. Sills said there’s “no evidence” that Bryant’s positive test is related to the outbreak that led to 23 players being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
“The timing of that would not really fit the biology of exposure and incubation and so forth, so we will pursue that and we will get the genomic-sequencing data, as we do in all of our positive cases, so that we can follow that up,” Sills said. “But we don’t have any evidence to suspect that at the present time.”