The Bills were forced to place four players on the COVID-reserve list after they were deemed to be close contacts to a staff member who tested positive for COVID Tuesday.
Receivers Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis and defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Star Lotulelei were all determined to be close contacts to the staff's positive COVID case. That staff member is fully vaccinated, but under the league's protocols all four players must go through the five-day re-entry procedure, which involves daily testing.
Bills GM Brandon Beane did say that some of the players five-day clocks started prior to Tuesday since their close contact occurred days earlier.
"None of them have tested positive, but basically due to close contact, they'll have to be out five days from when their last contact was. It's not necessarily today. So there's a chance we can get a player back, maybe two. We'll see by game day. But they'll be out up to five days."
Buffalo's last preseason game is Saturday when they host Green Bay at 1 pm.
The staff member reported to work this morning, but told Head Athletic Trainer, Nate Breske that something didn't feel right. He was immediately sent out to get tested and after the positive test was sent home. But having already been in the building, the process of contact tracing began.
"This is our new normal," said Beane. "It's not the normal we like, but it's the world we're in. We're not exempt from any of this and we're going to try to keep our building as safe as we can. Everyone understands the protocols and the rules. We immediately went into action.
"The league interviews you with their medical team. If you're positive they interview you, but it takes some time to go through that. That's why we just now are getting the results of this, but we kind of do our own quick test just so we can try to out of safety, get as many people out of the building that we think could be affected. So there were some people that weren't at practice today that will be able to return tomorrow."
The four players impacted must test daily until their five-day re-entry period is finished and they can return to the team facility at that time and re-engage with the club. They presumably participate in position and team meetings virtually.
Beane greatest hope at this point is that it is only one positive test in their building going forward.
"We'll definitely cross our fingers the next few days and hope that no one else pops up (positive)," he said. "That's the biggest thing to keep it from spreading. I'm think I'm numb to the fact that when we come in here every day, you're just glad everybody's negative. And so, that's kind of where we're at. It's been going on so long that we expect the unexpected with this. We don't have it figured out, we don't have it under control and we just have to deal with the cards that are dealt."
Scroll to see the best photos from day 18 of Buffalo Bills training camp, presented by Connors and Ferris.
At the start of training camp a month ago, Beane stated that the team's vaccination rate was just over 80 percent after some more players got the vaccine right before camp opened. A month later that number has not increased.
"We're similar to what we were when I mentioned that low 80s percent," Beane said. "I don't have enough data with what we've done, with the latest roster moves we've done. I don't know if we're still above that 80 percent threshold and it may be slightly below it. We had a push right as camp started to get us over that 80 number and it's kind of leveled off since then."
Buffalo's GM feels fortunate that the team's roster was negatively impacted by COVID in the preseason, but he's also realistic. He knows all too well that a similar situation could crop up at some point in the regular season somewhere across the league.
"Hopefully we won't have a lot of this in the regular season, but I'm sure, just like last year, at some point, this will happen as we get to the regular season."
The Bills experienced it first-hand last year when CB Josh Norman tested positive for COVID and had to be held off the team plane headed for a road game in Arizona the day before the game last November. Three other players determined to be close contacts had to be held back as well.
Buffalo also dealt with a pair of COVID-reserve designations at the outset of camp this summer when OL Ike Boettger and Dion Dawkins missed the first couple of weeks of training camp. Dawkins spent four days in the hospital and admitted there were times he was worried he wouldn't recover.
"In my seat you like to control as much as you can, you really do, but it's just proof that I can't control everything," said Beane. "We'll have as many reserves as we can, whether it's on practice squad or wherever else."
The league did extend the expanded practice squad rules from last season into this year that allows for 16 total players, six of whom can have unlimited NFL experience. It also allows for a pair of players to be called up as late at 90 minutes before a game if they're replacing players who tested positive for COVID.
With the FDA formally approving the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 for all people aged 12 and older, it's possible more players in Buffalo and across the league might now feel more comfortable getting vaccinated.
Beane is hopeful, but unsure if it will prompt any players to act.
"I don't know," he said. "These guys are all pretty well educated, and it's an independent personal decision. That's really where it is. It's not a mandatory thing. That's an agreed upon thing between the league and the union. So as long as it's not a mandatory thing I think most teams are going to have a number of players (unvaccinated).
"Maybe some were waiting on that. I don't have a specific number of players who said. 'Hey if the FDA approves this, I'll get (vaccinated).' Maybe some guys will look at this and say, 'Hey I don't want to deal with it.' I'm not sure all of them will. Time will tell."