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NFL facemasks could include N95, surgical material to fight virus spread

The entire facemask on the helmet could be fully covered this football season.

The medical director for the union representing NFL players says the masks on the helmets may be modified to include N95 or surgical mask material as a way to protect the transmission of the coronavirus. That includes the possibility of the entire helmet mask being covered, Thom Mayer told ESPN's "The Adam Schefter Podcast" Monday.

"This virus has one natural enemy and one only and that's transmission. If you shut off transmission, you shut off the threat of the virus," Mayer said.

Mayer told Schefter that there will probably be a recommendation to the league to use some form of protective mask during the upcoming season.

"Back in early March, I had suggested that we should consider novel and emerging ways to handle the helmets and the facemasks and the spread of the virus," Mayer said.  He said bio engineers at Oakley, which makes visors for the helmets, are looking into it.

What it might look like remains to be seen, but there are prototypes out there.

"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?" Mayer said, noting that Oakley has also worked on anti-fog goggles for the military.

Credit: AP
Pittsburgh Steelers helmets are on the field as the tema warms up before an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Mayer noted the importance of doing everything possible to limit the spread of the virus between players, coaches and staff.

"If we get people in camp at the club facilities and the virus begins to propagate quickly, we're probably close to game over because of the spread of the virus," Mayer said. He clarified there would be a big difference between one or two players getting the virus versus 50% of the team.

He also said players who may have a pre-existing condition will need to take it upon themselves to be extra vigilant, including using regular face masks on the sideline, social distancing and getting hydration from single-use packaging.

"Anybody who's got a risk, I would advise them to be zealous, religious and frankly, almost maniacally committed to minimizing the chance of spreading the virus," Mayer said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The NFL currently plans to open the season on Sept. 10.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.