THE FIRST player has tested positive to COVID-19. Or have they?
After Essendon star Conor McKenna tested positive to the virus on Saturday, games were postponed, the Department of Health and Human Services got involved, the club immediately isolated its players and the AFL was forced to make changes on the run.
And then, just like that, came a negative result in McKenna's next batch of testing.
AFL.com.au reporter Riley Beveridge breaks down what all of this means to 'keep things simple' for you, explaining how the AFL and Essendon will navigate the tricky circumstances.
WHAT HAPPENED TO CONOR McKENNA?
The speedy Essendon defender became the first AFL player to test positive for the COVID-19 virus over the weekend. As per AFL protocols, he was tested twice during the week. His test on Wednesday came back negative, allowing him to complete the club's main training session with teammates on Friday. However, his test conducted on Friday morning ahead of Sunday's game returned an irregular result on Saturday morning. He was immediately sent for more tests, which produced positive results later on Saturday morning. In a further twist, McKenna then produced a negative test result the next Tuesday and then again 24 hours later. The Bombers and the DHHS are currently investigating what could have led to these circumstances unfolding.
HOW HAVE HIS TEAMMATES BEEN IMPACTED?
McKenna completed contact training with a group of six teammates on Friday morning, while every Essendon player and its staff members were investigated by the Department of Health and Human Services as to whether they had 'close contact' with the Irishman. That is determined by whether they spent 15 minutes in face-to-face contact with McKenna, or two hours in a confined space with him. Ultimately, the DHHS found on Tuesday morning that James Stewart was the only player to be deemed in 'close contact' with McKenna. Despite producing a negative COVID-19 test result on Tuesday morning, Stewart will join McKenna in undertaking strict quarantine measures for the next 14 days. His other teammates and staff members, all of which produced negative COVID-19 test results on Tuesday morning, returned to training as per normal on Wednesday.
WHAT HAPPENS TO McKENNA AND STEWART FROM HERE?
McKenna has now produced two negative test results on Tuesday and Wednesday, having initially tested positive to the COVID-19 virus last Friday and Saturday. While under normal government measures, a person who produces two negative test results can leave isolation, it is not yet clear what this means for McKenna. Meanwhile, Stewart is yet to test positive to the virus, despite being deemed a 'close contact' of McKenna's.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE GAME THAT WAS POSTPONED?
Essendon's clash with Melbourne, originally scheduled for last Sunday at the MCG, was immediately postponed as a result of McKenna's positive COVID-19 test result. That game will now be played at a later date. Despite speculation, the AFL was adamant the game would not be played during the week between rounds three and four. That is in part due to the Demons playing an intraclub 'scratch match' at the MCG in place of their originally scheduled game last Sunday.
WILL THE BOMBERS STILL PLAY THIS WEEKEND?
Yes, they will. There had been fears Essendon's backline could be decimated for its next two matches against Carlton and Collingwood, should the six defenders training with McKenna last Friday all be made to quarantine for the next 14 days if deemed 'close contacts' of the Irishman. However, the AFL had made clear that so long as the Bombers had 22 fit players and four emergencies, they would be made to field a team. Ultimately, in welcome news for Essendon, only McKenna and Stewart will be unavailable as a result of the defender's positive COVID-19 test. Their game with the Blues will therefore go ahead as planned on Saturday night.
WHAT WILL CHANGE FROM HERE?
The AFL announced a host of sweeping changes to training rules on Monday as a result of McKenna's positive COVID-19 test. Contact training at full group sessions will be banned for the next four weeks, meaning players can only tackle in allotted groups of nine players. Clubs will still be able to train with their full playing group once per week, but only in non-contact drills to practice aspects like ball movement and tactics. Additionally, players and club staff members now cannot visit other houses or have visitors in their house in the 48 hours prior to their matchday COVID-19 tests.