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University Hospitals, Cleveland Browns Team Up to Keep Players and Fans Safe Throughout Pandemic

Innovations in Orthopaedics | Fall 2021

As the Official Healthcare Provider for the Cleveland Browns, University Hospitals commitment to the players, their families and the entire Browns organization extends beyond game day. Now in their eighth season of partnership, the team of expert UH Sports Medicine physicians takes a holistic approach to optimizing safety and athletic performance while connecting individuals to specialists across the world-class system to provide comprehensive health and wellness care.

James Voos, MDJames Voos, MD
Sean Cupp, MDSean Cupp, MD

The coronavirus pandemic has required the medical team to take on unprecedented challenges. In 2020 and continuing this season, physicians are working in concert with the Browns leadership to ensure that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local requirements are in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect the greater community and enable football to continue for the players and fans.

“From Day One of this pandemic, the Haslam family has made the health and safety of our organization, families and fans our first priority,” says Joe Sheehan, Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development for the Cleveland Browns. “Dr. Voos, our head team physician, Dr. Cupp, our lead medical physician, Dr. Salata, our infectious disease expert, and the entire team at University Hospitals have been tremendous partners throughout this process as we work together to create the safest possible environment and continue to adjust as guidelines change."

On the sidelines and at the training facility, the UH team has worked tirelessly to implement government and National Football League mandates and monitor player health. As vaccines became available, they have been instrumental in providing education and logistical support to administer vaccinations for Browns employees and their families. Additionally, James Voos, MD, Head Team Physician for the Cleveland Browns, Chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at UH Cleveland Medical Center, shared input as a member of the Ohio Department of Health Sports League Advisory Group.

“The past 18 months have highlighted that our relationship with the Browns organization and players is based on mutual trust, innovation and adaptation,” Dr. Voos says. “In a very short time, we were able to pull together national and University Hospital experts and develop a comprehensive program to care for the players, personnel, and families. While COVID has certainly been an overreaching focus, it has highlighted how we collaborate to solve challenging problems with the unified purpose of a safe and successful season.”

In addition to providing care for the Browns players and staff, the team and University Hospitals partnered with local public health officials to safely return fans to the stadium to cheer on their favorite team. “This was a significant undertaking, and it was important for us to protect the fans in the community. We wanted everyone to feel safe when they walked into the stadium.”

Mitigation Protocols

The Browns have invested heavily in player safety, including wearable technology to support contact tracing and vital sign monitoring for players and staff while at the training facility. Other mitigations have included daily or weekly coronavirus testing, masking, symptom screening and social distancing modifications such as installing floor-to-ceiling plexiglass and reducing locker room occupancy from 90 athletes to 40. Additional lockers were installed in a weight room and the field house was set up for weight training to improve airflow.

The NFL contracted with a third-party lab to conduct daily testing of players and personnel throughout the 32 franchises for the majority of the 2020-2021 season. “Because of the sheer number of people tested on a consecutive basis, the league had a COVID database larger than the U.S. government or military,” says Sean Cupp, MD, Lead Medical Team Physician for the Cleveland Browns, Associate Director of the University Hospitals Sports Medicine Institute. “The NFL Physicians Society has been able to share some of that information with the world through scientific white papers and demonstrate that we were able to facilitate a full season of professional football entertainment without spreading this disease on the field.”

None of the Browns players or staff members who contracted COVID-19 last season required hospitalization. They were all successfully treated as outpatients and have recovered exceptionally well. “That shows that the screening, testing and treatment protocols we were following were successful,” Dr. Cupp says. “Dr. Voos and I are fortunate to have an infectious disease genius like Dr. Salata to turn to as a resource.”

Throughout the pandemic, the NFL and the NFL Players Association have had access to the brightest minds at top academic and medical institutions around the country. “Infection Control Education for Major Sports, out of Duke University, advises the NFL about their policies for COVID, and they have been followed very carefully by the Browns,” says Robert Salata, MD, Physician-in-Chief and Chair of the Department of Medicine at UH Cleveland Medical Center. 

Drawing on the extensive resources at UH and the School of Medicine “has afforded an important opportunity for the Browns and team physicians in terms of bouncing ideas and making sure everything is in compliance,” Dr. Salata says. “It has been gratifying as specialists to know that we have been active in our roles to provide for the health of these players, their coaches and their families.”

“When we think about football, we often think about broken bones, sprains and orthopedic injuries, but the players and employees have the same health care issues as everyone else,” Dr. Voos says. “Our ability to connect people to an incredible team of providers, no matter what the issue, is something I really appreciate about UH. We’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with the Browns and moving the science of sports medicine forward.”

For more information, please contact Dr. Voos at James.Voos@UHhospitals.org, Dr. Cupp at Sean.Cupp@UHhosptials.org, or Dr. Salata at Robert.Salata@UHhospitals.org.

Contributing Experts:
James Voos, MD
Chair, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
Jack and Mary Herrick Distinguished Chair, Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine
UH Cleveland Medical Center
Charles H. Herndon Professorship and Chair
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Head Team Physician, Cleveland Browns
Medical Director, Cleveland Ballet

Sean Cupp, MD
Associate Director
UH Sports Medicine Institute
Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics and Family Medicine
Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine
Lead Medical Team Physician, Cleveland Browns

Robert Salata, MD
Physician-in-Chief and Chair, Department of Medicine
Master Clinician in Infectious Disease
University Hospitals
Professor and STERIS Chair of Excellence in Medicine

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

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