The Giants’ COVID-19 issues this week appear to be more of a testing glitch than an outbreak of the virus, but they are still causing chaos for the team and hovering over Sunday’s game against the Raiders.
"It’s been a different type of day," Joe Judge said of holding all meetings on Thursday virtually after a "solid number" of players and coaches received positive results from rapid tests for the third straight day.
The team issued a statement on Thursday saying that Bio-Reference Laboratories, which handles their testing, "is experiencing an unusually high number of false positives using the Rapid Mesa Test at our facility. With the exception of one individual, all of the positive Mesa test results over the last two days have come back negative through PCR testing. The laboratory is working with experts to determine the source of the problem."
The one individual is running backs coach Burton Burns, who Judge said on Wednesday was a confirmed positive and has been coaching virtually from home since his diagnosis on Tuesday. Judge said Burns was one of 13 members of the organization who tested positive in their rapid tests that day and the only one who was confirmed through PCR testing. Judge said a "solid number" of players and coaches received initial positive tests on Wednesday and Thursday as well. The Giants operated virtually on Thursday morning before practicing on the field Thursday afternoon.
Many of those who tested positive initially were cleared in time to participate in that workout, but not all were. Running back Gary Brightwell was isolated in the COVID protocol awaiting clearance while Saquon Barkley and Xavier McKinney remained on COVID/reserve after receiving that designation on Wednesday. Guard Matt Skura, who was not cleared to practice on Wednesday, was on the field Thursday.
"We think there is a lab irregularity going on there," the league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, told NFL Network. "We’re digging into it … I know we’ll get to the bottom of it."
The Giants said they are temporarily halting the use of the Rapid Mesa Test and administering PCR tests only to their players and personnel while the NFL and Bio-Reference Laboratories continue to monitor the situation. Even with that change, the Giants are unsure what current and future results will mean in the coming days.
"It’s something we’re working through operationally," Judge said. "Until we find out if we have to test [Friday] or continuously through gameday, I’ve told the coaches and players that everyone has to be ready. I told the coaches we could get to Sunday morning and they could tell us we’ve lost a dozen people. I don’t want to hear any excuses. Have the next guy ready to go. Have a gameplan ready that includes changes in personnel, changes in scheme."
While Barkley may very well be cleared to return from a COVID standpoint prior to Sunday, the time he has missed will almost certainly eliminate him from participation in the game due to the ankle injury he has been dealing with for a month.
"Not having him available to be here with the trainers on a regular basis and see if we can get him into practice, I wouldn’t eliminate him at this point based on where he is physically but I couldn’t say it’s moving in a direction to give us a definite positive answer," Judge said. "We’ll see where he’s at."
Barkley isn’t the only player whose football is being affected by the testing fiasco. Other Giants, including Kenny Golladay who did return to practice for the first time since his knee injury on Oct. 10, could be impacted.
"Whether you are on IR and not going to be part of this game anyway, or someone who is trying to see if they can get to this game, the little bit of lost time does affect you," Judge said. "Not having the full morning available for treatment, strength training to get your body back, it does affect you."
And the entire team.
"The feedback we’re getting now from our training staff is, as we get more information, ‘Be patient,’" Judge said.
With a game just days away, that’s a hard prescription to take.