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NFL tests face masks for coronavirus protection during games

Thomas Barrabi

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The NFL is working with sports equipment firm Oakley to develop prototypes for face masks that could help protect players from COVID-19 once play resumes, NFL Players Association Medical Director Dr. Thom Mayer said Monday.

Officials are testing modified face masks that may contain N95, surgical material or other protective designs, Mayer said during an appearance on ESPN’s “The Adam Schefter Podcast.” He added the NFL would likely recommend that players make use of a modified face mask as the season approaches.

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"Back in early March, I had suggested that we should consider novel and emerging ways to handle the helmets and the face masks and the spread of the virus," Mayer said.

While the prototypes are still in development, Mayer said it was realistic that the protective designs encompass the entire face mask of a traditional football helmet. Oakley is the NFL’s exclusive partner on face visors and also works with the U.S. military.

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Oakley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"They've got some prototypes. They're doing really good work," Mayer added. "Some of them, when you first look at them, you think, 'Gosh, no' 'cause you're not used to seeing it. You're just not used to seeing it. But they're looking at every issue you can imagine, including when it fogs up. What do we do with that? But these guys are used to dealing with this stuff."

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NFL teams began reopening their facilities on a limited basis Tuesday after a two-month shutdown related to the pandemic. Virtual offseason programs are expected to continue through late June as league officials work through safety measures.

The NFL released a full 17-week schedule and is planning to hold the 2020 season as scheduled this fall.

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