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Broncos confront greater restrictions in light of COVID-19 spread

Back to 2020 protocols, although it's now possible for some players to return sooner than 10 days.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It's back to grab-n-go meals in the parking lot for Broncos players.

The NFL issued a stricter set of guidelines to all 32 clubs Thursday afternoon in an effort to stem the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19. Since Monday, the league has placed 122 players in its COVID-19 protocols with 120 of those testing positive (the other two were close contacts).

The Broncos currently have four players in COVID-19 protocols because of positive tests: Backup running back Mike Boone and safety P.J. Locke have been out since Friday, starting outside linebacker Malik Reed since Saturday and practice squad receiver Seth Williams since Monday.

Boone, Locke and Reed missed the game last week against the Lions and because 10 days won't elapse from their initial positive test, they are likely to miss the game this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Some of the new restrictions Broncos players and coaches must now follow:

*Meetings must be held either in the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse, outdoors or virtually. The Broncos moved their offensive meetings to the fieldhouse a few weeks ago but they will now have to stagger in times for their defense.

*No in-person dining. Bronco players will now have to get grab-n-go meals, as they did for portions of last season. For many Broncos players, this means eating in the team parking lot.

*No more than 15 people in the weight room at one time.

*No visitors at the team hotel. And players and coaches are pretty much restricted to their team hotel when on the road.

*Public appearances and charity events for players and coaches are now prohibited. This hurts many players who are very active in the Denver community.

*Players and coaches are pretty much prohibited from bars, night clubs, indoor concerts and sporting events -- except for applicable NFL games -- and house gatherings of more than 15 people.

*Masks are required indoors regardless of vaccination status.

The upside to these enhanced restrictions is that vaccinated players who are asymptomatic when they test positive will have a greater chance to return to the field sooner than the current 10-day quarantine period. Vaccinated players had been able to return sooner than 10 days if they had consecutive negative tests. However, none of the 13 Broncos players or offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur who tested positive returned sooner than 10 days.

NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills says the omicron variant is more contagious than other COVID-19 variants but is also a milder form of illness. If it's determined players who test positive are no longer contagious, they can return to practice and play.

The memo the NFL sent to its 32 teams Thursday:

"Throughout the pandemic we have continuously evolved our protocols to meet our goal of advancing the safety of the players, coaches and staff. The changes we are making today aim to address the increase in cases and the advent of the Omicron variant. Effective immediately, all clubs will implement preventative measures that have proven effective: masking regardless of vaccination status, remote or outdoor meetings, eliminating in-person meals, and no outside visitors while on team travel. We will continue to strongly encourage booster shots as the most effective protection. Finally, and based on expert advice, we will adjust the return-to-participation requirements for those who have recovered from COVID-19. All of these changes are grounded in our data and science-backed approach, with safety our number-one goal for the entire NFL community."

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