Browns’ COVID cases rise, Mayfield and Stefanski test positive


CLEVELAND (AP) – When Kevin Stefanski learned he had tested positive for COVID-19 again, the cool Cleveland trainer barely blinked.

Nothing new to him or the Browns.

The team’s virus outbreak widened and worsened on Wednesday with Stefanski, quarterback Baker Mayfield and three other starters testing positive jeopardizing their chances of making it into Saturday’s critical game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

In total, Cleveland has 18 players – including 11 newbies or regulars – and two coaches on the COVID-19 roster.

This is the second year in a row that the Browns have faced a major spike in COVID-19 cases as they pursue a playoff berth. Last season Stefanski had to give up Cleveland’s victory in Pittsburgh after testing positive.

“We’ve been here before,” Stefanski told Zoom. “Everyone must intervene according to availability. “

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said there had been no discussions about the postponement of the Browns-Raiders game, even as the Browns epidemic grew.

“Look, we’ve been raising this issue for the last couple of years: it’s a challenge,” Goodell said at owners meetings in Texas. “I think what made us successful is safety above all else. Second, be prepared to adapt at any time.

“It’s clear, even in the last couple of weeks, that the changes are quite significant and different from what they were before, and I think that calls for changes to our protocols in general, and we’re working with the players association on this. “

It’s possible the Browns have more cases. In the meantime, they are moving forward with an abnormal workweek in 2021, but which they have seen much of last season.

“We have a game on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. unless someone tells me otherwise,” said Stefanski, named AP Coach of the Year in 2020, in part for guiding his team around COVID-19 and up. ‘in the playoffs.

“We really need to focus on what we need to do to get ready, and that’s our whole expectation is to go out with our guys on Saturday and go find a way.”

Stefanski and the positive players will have to be asymptomatic and produce two negative tests in order to participate on Saturday. If Stefanski is out, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer will serve as interim head coach for the game in Cleveland, just as he did in January in Pittsburgh, and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt will handle appeals. of game.

“My confidence, as you can imagine, is incredibly high with all of our coaches,” Stefanski said.

A day after placing eight players on the COVID-19 roster, the Browns added Mayfield, starting defenseman John Johnson III, fullback Troy Hill, starting defensive tackle Malik McDowell and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo on the reserve list / COVID-19.

It’s not an ideal situation heading into a vital game for the Browns (7-6), who have been inconsistent all season and prepare to host the Raiders (6-7) in a short week – and might not be. able to have a full practice.

Stefanski’s message to the team in the midst of the outbreak was to lock in.

“We have to focus on our job, then we have to do our job,” he said. “I understand that there are distractions, and I understand that a lot is going on, but I really don’t care.”

On Tuesday, the Browns were hit with their first wave of positive tests, which included top receiver Jarvis Landry and starting offensive linemen Wyatt Teller and Jedrick Wills Jr. They joined tight end David Njoku, linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. and punter Jamie Gillan on the COVID List.

To hopefully mitigate a larger spread, the Browns held three separate away practices – with players wearing masks – and closed them to reporters.

“The guys will go from the parking lot to the pitch,” Stefanski said.

The Browns are at the extreme end of what has been a major surge in COVID-19 cases in the league this week. There were 65 cases reported on Monday and Tuesday, the worst outbreak in two days since the start of the pandemic.

If there’s one bright spot, it’s that the Browns are used to it.

Last season, they were one of the league’s teams hardest hit by the coronavirus. The Browns were without star defensive end Myles Garrett after testing positive.

Stefanski missed the wildcard game – with Pro Bowl goalie Joel Bitonio – after testing positive days before the game and watching the Browns beat the Steelers from his home basement.

On Monday, Mayfield, who has suffered injuries all season, and his wife, Emily, appeared at a Christmas event at a local boys and girls chapter, where they could have exposed themselves and others to the virus.

After learning of Mayfield’s positive test, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Northeast Ohio said in a statement that it had informed parents and family members of the 75 children who attended the event. The club is closing its facilities in Elyria, Ohio, for the remainder of the week, “to do a thorough cleaning and limit any further exposure.”

Stefanski said he supports Mayfield’s charitable work and spoke to the team about caution in public places as the virus rages on.

Mayfield has played most of this season with a broken left shoulder, but said after Sunday’s win over Baltimore he felt better than he had been in months. If he can’t play, replacement veteran Case Keenum will start.

Keenum replaced injured Mayfield earlier this season and led the Browns to a win over Denver.

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