One of the few battles the Giants were able to win consistently through the first half of this NFL season was the fight to keep COVID-19 out of their facility. Before Wednesday, they had not had a player test positive since the earliest days of training camp.
That streak ended when starting guard Will Hernandez tested positive for the coronavirus. He was placed on the team’s COVID-19/reserve list on Thursday and placed in self-isolation.
Seven other players and two assistant coaches also were told to remain home from the team’s practices and meetings on Thursday. The Giants’ training facility remained open and the team practiced with extra precautions, including masks and shields for the players.
Joe Judge said on Thursday that on Wednesday evening — on a day off for the players, who still had to report to the facility for daily testing — he was "notified there were some issues." By Wednesday night, the positive test on Hernandez was confirmed and contact tracing had identified those whom he had been close to in the previous days.
Those included most of the team’s offensive linemen as well as defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson and outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema.
"We got the list of names of the players, we made adjustments, we had a couple of coaches involved," Judge said. "We’ve been fortunate that there are really no high-risk guys within the tracer contacts. There are some precautions we have to take as a team, but we’re optimistic to get all of these guys [besides Hernandez] back. We’re operating that we’re going to have them back right now."
Because they were not considered "high risk" contacts, if they remain asymptomatic and test negative, they could return to the facility as early as Friday.
The Giants are scheduled to host Tampa Bay on Monday. The Bucs had their own COVID-19 issues on Thursday when a member of the football operations support staff tested positive on Wednesday night. None of the players or coaches were identified as being at high risk for exposure, and as of Thursday, the game remained set for its scheduled kickoff, a league spokesman said.
Asked if he has concern that the game could be postponed or moved, Judge said: "We have none right now. We’re expecting to play Monday night and that’s our mindset."
Judge was unable to discuss Hernandez specifically because his interview took place before the third-year guard’s official designation on reserve, but he said he had not spoken to him and had no update on whether he was experiencing symptoms. He said vice president of medical services Ronnie Barnes had been in contact with Hernandez.
Other defensive coaches took over the responsibilities for Henderson and Bielema. The Giants have had contingency plans in place since they first reported to training camp for how they might deal with an outbreak of the virus on the team, but Judge said most of those protocols were not enacted.
"All throughout the spring and training camp, people went through learning different positions in case it were to come up, some kind of a mass lockout or some kind of major numbers concern," Judge said. "We don’t have that today."
While the protocols were altered, Judge said his message to the team in the wake of the news was unchanged.
"We just have to remind each other constantly that it’s all about being safe, it’s all about putting ourselves in the right situations, it’s about the social distancing in the building, the masks, the PPEs," he said. "We just have to go ahead and stay consistent with that throughout the season and make sure we put ourselves in the best position possible."
Beyond that, the Giants move on toward the upcoming game.
"There is always some kind of adversity you are going to deal with," Judge said. "To us, this is just a sudden change and we keep on moving forward. We emphasize working on what we can accomplish today as a team and we get everyone ready who may be part of the game plan."