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The Bears on Thursday announced sweeping measures amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, postponing employee air travel and official draft visits until further notice and temporarily closing their two offices, requiring employees to work from home on Friday.
The team's draft party at Soldier Field on April 24 also was canceled.
"The Chicago Bears are continuing to monitor the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and consulting with team medical staff, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Football League," reads a statement released by the team Thursday evening.
"Further staffing and travel decisions will be made as we continue to monitor the fluid situation. The health and safety of our players, coaches and all staff is our utmost priority."
The World Health Organization officially declared the infectious disease a pandemic on an unforgettable Wednesday in the US, when the president addressed the nation in prime time to announce a European travel ban. That address came around the same time the NBA stunningly suspended its season, with Utah Jazz star C Rudy Gobert testing positive for the novel coronvirus. Subsequently, the NHL, MLB, MLS, along with virtually every other professional sporting league except the NFL, have been suspended, while the NCAA has canceled all spring and winter championships, including the Men's Basetball Tournament, initially set to tip next week.
The NFL on Thursday canceled its annual league meeting in Florida, which was scheduled in Palm Beach from March 29-April 1. Rules and bylaws voting and other orders of business instead will be conducted at the spring meeting, May 19-20.
However, the league is still planning for the new year to open Wednesday — when players can begin switching teams — preceded by Saturday's vote on a new CBA and the start of free agency's 48-hour negotiating window Monday.
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) has infected more than 115,000 worldwide — including more than 1,000 in the US — with more than 4,900 deaths. There are 25 reported cases across multiple counties in Illinois. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Governor JB Pritzker announced Wednesday that the city's annual St. Patrick's Day Festival, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been postponed.
The Bears previously announced Wednesday morning that ticket sales were underway for their annual draft party, but they "will continue to monitor the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation and, if any changes to the event become necessary, will communicate that information as soon as possible. The health and safety of our fans is a priority."
Indeed, the coronavirus is certainly changing the pre-draft process, not only with teams pulling back on travel but several universities with potential first-round draft prospects canceling pro days. Again, it's unclear whether Matt Nagy and any of his staff members were at any of the highly anticipated events earlier in the week, including Oklahoma, Wisconsin or Northwestern on Wednesday, but the head coach and some of his assistants have attended pro days in each of his previous two offseasons with the Bears.
A number of prominent agents, including Select Sports' Erik Burkhardt and Mike McCartney of Priority Sports, have instructed their clients preparing for the draft not to take official visits to team facilities.
The same likely would soon hold true for veteran free agents, who often make their team visits, undergo physicals and ultimately sign contracts as early as next week. With the exception of the physical evaluations, everything else theoretically could be done remotely, so perhaps that's why the NFL has yet to postpone. But it'd be very surprising if the league doesn't soon cancel its draft, which was supposed to make its debut in Las Vegas — new home to the Raiders — on April 23.
The latest word from the league late Thursday morning is that it's timeline remains unchanged, with the new CBA vote coming Saturday, the deadline to apply franchise and transition tags and begin negotiating with free agents on Monday and the new league year opening Wednesday at 3:00 p.m.