This week, the Bears crossed into territory they had hoped to avoid: a player testing positive for COVID-19.
As cases surged across the nation—especially in the Midwest—the Bears, like all NFL teams, kept a close eye on the situation with a protocol that included social distancing and daily testing. As positive cases began to come in, a nervous energy fell over the team.
"It's the same feeling across the board," said outside linebacker Khalil Mack, "whether you're a player or a coach or a personnel guy. You have to understand the safety of the people you're around the most and love the most. It's huge. You definitely don't want to put anybody at risk. That's why everybody here can understand that safety comes first, especially this year."
The situation came to a head on Thursday when Halas Hall closed due to another positive test.
"We all came to get our tests and kind of found out what was going on," said tight end Jimmy Graham, "and had some swift action by our head coach and our GM to limit us and our exposure until they got more answers, which is awesome, to be a part of an organization that doesn't wait on answers and is active before they even know what the league wants us to do. They acted quickly. We all went [on] Zoom and were studying at home. So hats off to our head coach and GM and our ownership here because they truly care about our health."
Over the past few weeks, coach Matt Nagy earned praise from his players due to his leadership and commitment to following the protocols set forward by head trainer and infection control officer Andre Tucker.
"Nagy is a hell of a guy," Mack said. "He understands the responsibility that we all have to keep each other safe, and we have to keep our families safe as well. That's the mindset you want to have from your head guy, understanding the situation and understanding what it's going to take to keep not only just the players and the staff safe, but our families safe as well."
Safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. said that Nagy's swift action and calm demeanor helped calm his anxiety about the pandemic's spread inside the Bears' headquarters.
"For him to kind of just tell everybody 'hey man, just relax, go home, get out of here,'" said Gipson, "man, it puts a lot of people at ease and just shows the type of leader he is. It shows the type of person he is that he truly cares about his players beyond the game of football, beyond the white lines. So these are things that people don't see, these are things that people don't talk about, man, but that's why I personally have a lot of respect for him and a lot of people do on this team."
The team has acknowledged that this year would call for creativity and contingency plans. For Graham, the most consistent thing about the year has been the feeling of uncertainty.
"It's certainly been different, that's for sure," said Graham, "but it's almost a new normal of there never being a normal week. It's kind of been like that since the beginning of this offseason, since the beginning of training camp. Week by week, you just never know what you're going to get thrown, and whoever can adapt and whoever can limit some of this exposure is going to have an opportunity getting into the playoffs."