The Bears announced Thursday night that they have been cleared to return to Halas Hall and resume football activities Friday, continuing under the NFL's intensive protocol.
The team closed the facility and paused all in-person football activities Thursday morning after learning that one of its players tested positive for COVID-19. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano was in the middle of a Zoom interview with reporters when he informed them he had to abruptly end the call.
After conducting video meetings during the day, coach Matt Nagy told reporters late in the afternoon that the Bears were waiting for the NFL to confirm the positive test and complete the contact tracing process.
"There's a process to it and that's kind of where [the NFL is] at right now," Nagy said at the time. "We just wanted to let them do that, and while they're doing that, we wanted to make sure that, hey, with that being done, let's go ahead and let's just right now get everybody home, make sure everybody's good, get a deep cleanse of the building."
While thrilled to return to work, the Bears no doubt will be shorthanded at Friday's practice. On Tuesday, they placed offensive linemen Germain Ifedi and Jason Spriggs on the reserve/COVID-19 list and put right tackle Bobby Massie on injured reserve, where he joined left guard James Daniels and running back Tarik Cohen. If the Bears actually had practiced Thursday, six players would have been unable to participate and three would have been limited. In 2020, the mantra is clearly not only "next-man-up" but "all-hands-on-deck."
"We told the younger guys, some of the practice squad guys, we've been telling them all year long, this is one of those years you better be ready," Nagy said, "you better know your plays and you better be ready to step up because you're going to get an opportunity."
Nagy is proud of how the Bears have handled COVID-19-related issues, an effort that's spearheaded by head athletic trainer Andre Tucker, who has doubled as the organization's infection control officer. It's a position the NFL mandated each franchise to create to coordinate all coronavirus issues.
In his role as the Bears' ICO, Tucker is responsible for the COVID-19 screening protocol, ensuring that the cleaning and disinfection program at Halas Hall meets CDC and ICS guidelines and that there's signage throughout the building regarding health policies and COVID-19 best practices, such as stopping the spread of germs and guidance for those who experience virus-like symptoms.
"Andre Tucker has done an amazing job with this process," Nagy said. "I think he needs to be noticed with how well he's handling this. It can be stressful, but he's doing everything he can to make this not stressful for all of us."
Since the start of the pandemic, Nagy has repeatedly stressed the importance of constant communication throughout the organization.
"That word 'trust' is huge right now, I really believe that," Nagy said. "When you get news like this, whether it's the middle of the night or whether it's early in the morning or whenever in the day, instantly you have 150 people in our building that want to know a lot of answers.
"I think the biggest thing that everyone will learn in our organization is that we always put their health and safety first, always. We have a well-thought-out plan. The best part about our crew, and just working with Ryan [Pace] and Andre—and Andre's doing so much each and every day—is just staying calm. Just not panicking, not getting beat down with all the stuff, all the phone calls and questioning and this and that. You just stay calm and you work through it and you stay positive. That's what we've done."