Saquon Barkley and Xavier McKinney were placed on COVID/reserve Wednesday evening to cap the first day this season in which the pandemic made a direct impact on the Giants.
The two players — along with running backs coach Burton Burns, who head coach Joe Judge said tested positive for the virus, and guard Matt Skura who was not placed on reserve as of Wednesday evening — were not at practice with the rest of the squad in accordance with team and league protocols.
It remains unclear if any of them will be eligible to participate in Sunday’s game against the Raiders. McKinney and Skura are both starters and Barkley has missed the past three games with an ankle injury that may have held him out of this upcoming contest anyway. Missing time rehabbing with trainers will almost certainly push Barkley’s return to after next week’s bye.
Vaccinated players who test positive require two negative tests 24 hours apart and a lack of symptoms to rejoin their team. Unvaccinated players who test positive must remain in isolation for 10 days no matter their symptoms or ensuing test results. Things are so fluid with the three Giants players who were in isolation during Wednesday’s practice that a team source told Newsday "by Friday morning, all, some, or none of those players could be on the [COVID/reserve] list."
The designations for Barkley and McKinney came at the end of a disjointed day that saw news conferences in the parking lot, lines of players wrapped around testing trailers, shifted practice schedules and the distribution of masks to anyone who walked inside the building.
The Giants had been relatively unaffected by COVID through the first half of this season. That status began to erode on Tuesday when, according to Judge, 13 members of the team (players and other personnel) received positive results from rapid tests. They were isolated and re-tested with PCR swabs, upon which only one — Burns — was a confirmed positive.
When Wednesday’s batch of rapid tests revealed further potential positives, the team began implementing a number of guidelines and restrictions, some of which were determined at the moment. Others were taken from the playbook the Giants used to get through the 2020 season.
"It immediately puts you back in that mode," Judge said of last year’s diligence and protocols. "You’ve got all of your plans in a vault. We haven’t had to pull them out to this point in the season, but here we are and we’re ready for this."
Judge said Burns, 69, was at home with his wife and feeling well enough to participate in meetings via Zoom. Assistant coaches Jody Wright and Freddie Kitchens took on a more hands-on approach with the position group in his absence.
The most visible of the adjustments was when the entire team — players, coaches, executives — paraded from the building to an adjacent parking lot late Wednesday morning for an extra round of testing that the Giants said was done out of "an abundance of caution." That process pushed the start of practice back by approximately one hour.
Vaccinated personnel in Tiers 1 and 2 — which for the Giants includes the entire coaching staff and, according to Judge, all but a "very few" players — are required to be tested once per week according to an agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA. Tuesday was an off day for the players but when the team arrived at its facility from Monday night’s game in Kansas City at about 5 a.m. Tuesday some in that vaccinated group opted to have their weekly test conducted that morning. Others waited until they arrived at work Wednesday. Unvaccinated players are tested daily.
The Giants were waiting on guidance from the league and its chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills to see if they will continue daily testing for players and coaches regardless of vaccination status.
"We’re going to have to draw on the experience we gained last year," Judge told reporters in the parking lot rather than adjacent to the practice field where he normally speaks. "We’ve already started talking in terms of how we might have to alter our practices or our meeting plans for the remainder of the week. We’ll see what the league comes out with but we’ll have contingency plans. Will we have to meet virtually? Are we going to be limited in how we are on the field together? What’s going to happen to position groups if we lose certain players?"
None of those questions had answers Wednesday, an ambiguity the Giants got all too used to last season.
"This is nothing new," safety Logan Ryan said. "We wear tracers every day, get COVID tested, so stuff like this comes up . . . We obviously had experience with this last season. It’s been a different type of football these last couple years. We’ve got to be able to adjust on the fly. We’re well-trained and versed in that."