The Bears altered their practice schedule Monday, two days after practice squad offensive lineman Badara Traore became their first player since the start of the regular season to test positive for COVID-19.
As a preventative measure, all practice squad players were told not to report to Halas Hall Monday. As a result, the Bears replaced what was supposed to be a light practice with a walk-through.
"With the schedule change, obviously with everything that happened in regards to last weekend with the positive COVID test, what that does is it kind of puts in a trickle-down effect as to how you've got to do things moving forward," Nagy said.
"We're learning through other teams and other leagues just how to handle these type of scenarios, and what we're trying to do is go above and beyond in here in our bubble. We kept our practice squad players, for preventative measure, we kept them at home, so they're not even in the building today. What happens when you don't have your practice squad players is now you don't have guys and numbers to run your [practice], so we had to pull back there, and it was OK."
In addition to the walk-through, Monday's activities included running and weight-lifting. Bears players are typically off on Mondays before returning to Halas Hall on Tuesdays. But those two days were already flip-flopped on the schedule because the team played last Thursday night instead of Sunday.
The Bears are fortunate that Traore's positive test came over the weekend when Halas Hall was empty and that no one else has tested positive.
"You never want it to happen, but when it did happen, it happened at a good time for us because we had guys out of the building, which is good," Nagy said. "Now what's important is that you've got to make sure that just because things are going well the last couple of days in regards to results, you want to make sure that that continues to go [well] here for the next several days to kind of get through the incubation period, per se. So that's kind of where we're at right now, and so far, so good."
Nagy anticipates the practice squad players will be back in the facility Wednesday when the Bears return to the practice field in advance of Sunday's road game against the Carolina Panthers. As they've done daily since reporting to training camp, all players, coaches and staff members will continue to take COVID tests, have their temperatures taken and wear masks as well as proximity trackers on their wrists that record the distance and duration between individual devices.
"As far as the protocols that we put in place in order for us to stay safe, I'm sure everybody's doing their best in order to stand by those and protect everyone around us because we all have families; we all have kids, we all have significant others or parents that we want to protect," said defensive tackle Akiem Hicks. "So the onus falls on us to do those things that are necessary in order for us to continue working, to continue playing this sport and entertaining our public."
Although the Bears have been ultra-vigilant in trying to keep their players safe and healthy, Traore's positive test was unnerving.
"It's pretty scary," said receiver Allen Robinson II. "You just kind of think back as far as maybe who that player has been around and things like that because you've seen cases pop up through teams that haven't even been in the facility, but [cases] continue to pop up. So it's scary. All you can do is keep your fingers crossed that this is the last and only person [to test positive].
"[You're] hoping every day that you wake up that you don't have that missed call or call on your cell phone that you tested positive. I feel like for us as a team and as players, we're taking the proper and necessary precautions to maintain our safety. But at the end of the day, this is a very unknown thing when it comes to just how the virus is spreading and things like that. All you can do is hope that nobody else is in the crossfire."
Hicks acknowledged that he has many of the same concerns as everyone else.
"I can't imagine that too many people in our country right now are experiencing a level of comfort, and I don't think that falls outside the realm of professional football," Hicks said. "So I think that it is a trying time. I think that it's tough on everybody. I think that we would prefer to not have anyone with a positive test, but the game of football is a contact sport; we're going to be exchanging sweat at times during plays, we're going to be in close proximity during a lot of scenarios.
"But as far as the protocols are concerned around our building, we're doing our best to stand by those protocols that have been put in place for our safety, right? Would I say that I am comfortable? No, I would say that I am experiencing everything that America is experiencing right now."
In terms of what Traore is currently experiencing, Nagy said that he thinks the undrafted rookie from LSU is "doing pretty good."
"Just from talking to him, he feels bad because he has no idea when it happened or anything like that," Nagy said. "That's the biggest thing is just trying to understand the 'why' part; why him? But at the same point in time, we all just got to understand that, support him and know that we've got to do our job now to risk mitigate as much as possible. But he seems to be doing good."
The support the Bears offer to a player who tests positive for COVID involves both the physical and mental aspects of the situation.
"No. 1, we communicate with them and just make sure that, symptom-wise, they're okay, and then whatever we gotta do to help with that," Nagy said. "Then the emotional side is a big part of it as well because like 'BT' was saying, you feel bad because you don't know when or how you got it. That's unknown."
With COVID-related changes seemingly transpiring on a daily basis, Nagy has focused on keeping in constant communication with players and coaches.
"[At] the very beginning of the start of the season and really going back to the offseason, we said, 'Listen, every day is going to be different,'" Nagy said. "And then how do we respond to that? So our communication here has been really, really good from [the] top down. We have an app we use for our team. We have a communication process to let everybody know what's going on. Last night we had a big Zoom meeting just to let everybody know, 'OK, here's what we've got moving forward, here's the change we're making, are there any questions or concerns?'
"We got everybody on that call and we just talked through it, so I think that part is comforting to the players. They came out here today and had a great walk-through. And now we get them out of the building—they're not sitting around the locker room, they're not in the weight rooms, they're out of here, and now we're going to have some Zoom meetings later on."
The Bears aren't the only team that has had to adjust and adapt on the fly. On Sunday, the league reshuffled its schedule, moving eight games in the coming weeks.
"It puts a lot of teams at a lot of disadvantages," Robinson said. "But going into this season, just like coach [Nagy] said … you really have got to expect the unexpected at all times. That's the kind of season that this was going to be. Going in, we've kind of known that. So you have to just adjust as best as you can. There's going to be some tough situations, but you've got to just continue to try to adjust and push through it."
Two weeks ago, the Steelers didn't find out until Thursday that their Sunday game against the Titans was being postponed after a Tennessee player and staff member had tested positive for COVID.
"Guys were in the facility practicing all week," Robinson said, "guys were going through their normal weekly protocols and preparing for a game, and then it's like, 'OK, this is your bye week.' But at the same time, you still had practices, you haven't had any added rest or anything like that. It's tough. I'd definitely imagine that it's very, very frustrating as well. But at the same time, this is one of those years where there are a lot of things around the league that players and teams can't control. You've got to try to go with the flow and make the best of it."