(Reuters) -The Cleveland Browns shut down their training and practice facility on Wednesday after a player and a staff member tested positive for the novel coronavirus, posing a potential final hurdle for the NFL as it closes out its regular season.
The 10-5 Browns are in the hunt for a playoff spot going into their Sunday game against divisional rival the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have clinched their playoff berth after winning the AFC North title.
But the positive tests within the Cleveland organization, which said it was cleared to reopen the facility later on Wednesday, could pose a Week 17 challenge for the league, with little scope to reschedule the game if the COVID-19 positives force a delay in the final week of the regular competition.
League officials insisted on Wednesday that there was no evidence of transmission within the Browns facility and that the COVID-19 positives were the likely result of community exposure.
“To date, we don’t see any connection among the recent positive cases with the Browns,” said NFL Chief Medical Officer Allen Sills.
“But obviously we’re going to continue to work through that, continue to monitor test results on a day-to-day basis.”
Dawn Aponte, the NFL’s chief football administrative officer, said the league was continuing contact tracing but was moving forward with plans to play on schedule.
“We try to remain flexible and adaptable as we go through this,” said Aponte. “Everything remains on the table and as we continue to get the information, we’ll assess it and address it.”
The NFL has seen numerous game delays due to COVID-19 positives but no outright cancellations, as it repeatedly ratcheted up its safety protocols – and handed down hefty fines for noncompliance.
The novel coronavirus has spread rapidly across the United States, with more than 19 million infections and over 330,000 COVID-19-related deaths.
The Browns, who have not made a playoff appearance since 2002, placed a handful of players on their Reserve/COVID-19 list in the last week, including rookie tight end Harrison Bryant and safety Andrew Sendejo.
The Reserve/COVID-19 list includes players who have tested positive or have had a close contact with an infected person.
The Browns were without some of their top talent at wide receiver due to COVID-19 in their 23-16 loss to the New York Jets in Week 16.
“We’re all prepared to adapt as necessary and really just take this thing day by day,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond)