Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins was activated from the league's COVID-19 reserve list on Thursday, saying his five-day absence as a high-risk close contact was because he spent too much time in too small of a meeting room with teammate Kellen Mond, who tested positive for the coronavirus Saturday.
Cousins said he had six negative tests since he was last with Mond and hasn't had any symptoms.
The quarterback again declined to discuss whether he had been vaccinated against the virus, calling it a "very private health matter for me." Coach Mike Zimmer has suggested Jake Browning is the Vikings' only vaccinated quarterback, and league protocols would not have forced Cousins and Nate Stanley to miss five days of practice if they had been vaccinated.
Cousins said he believes masking and social distancing work. The fact he didn't get COVID after being in a room with Mond is proof of that, he said, as is the fact the league was able to keep positive case rates among players and staff lower than much of the country through daily testing, contact tracing and strict distancing rules.
"I do believe that as a leader of the team, it's very important to follow the protocols to avoid this close contact, because that is what it's going to come down to: Did you have a close contact? So I'm going to be vigilant about avoiding a close contact," Cousins said. "I've even thought about, should I just set up literally Plexiglas around where I sit, so this could never happen again? I've thought about it, because I'm going to do whatever it takes. We're going to avoid this close-contact thing, and I look forward to making sure I'm playing for every game this year."
NFL rules require vaccination for all coaches, scouts and equipment managers who interact directly with players, which led the Vikings to reassign offensive line coach Rick Dennison to a virtual adviser role. For players, the league has incentivized getting vaccinated by reducing restrictions for vaccinated players — relaxing rules on social distancing, quarantine requirements, travel and mask wearing.
Asked if his life would be easier if he got the vaccine, Cousins said, "I'm at peace with where I'm at, and I'll follow the protocols vigilantly."
Cousins said he was deemed a close contact of Mond because of the size of the indoor meeting room they were in.
"I've come to learn since I've been at home that the tracers we wear actually showed I was not a 'close contact' as I understand being a close contact, which is being within a certain number of feet," he said. "The challenge was, the meeting room we met in was deemed to be too small for us to have been in a room together — even if we were significantly apart from each other. So we've since moved to a different meeting room, and as I understand it, had we met in a larger room, I would not have missed practice."
The NFL's 2021 COVID-19 protocols state, "Clubs must make efforts to hold in-person meetings with players who are not fully vaccinated sitting a minimum of six (6) feet apart from other participants and wearing masks. In-person meetings that do not permit physical distancing for players who are not fully vaccinated are prohibited."
As the Vikings look toward a U.S. Bank Stadium scrimmage on Saturday and their first preseason game against the Broncos next weekend, vaccination hesitancy has introduced some tension into the organization during training camp in light of the delta variant that's caused COVID cases to increase across the state. Though Mond was the player who tested positive for the coronavirus, much of the tension has centered on Cousins' refusal to get the vaccine, given the effect his absence could have on the team during the regular season.
The quarterback said he had a "tremendous conversation" with Zimmer, after the coach criticized unvaccinated players in a pair of news conferences and a Tuesday interview on KFAN. Cousins would not discuss the details of the conversation, but called it a "very, very positive discussion" and added he "came away feeling great."
Cousins said he continues to learn about the virus and the protocols, mentioning a Wednesday e-mail from the NFL Players Association that proposed another set of protocol changes. Those include daily testing for both vaccinated and unvaccinated players; currently only unvaccinated players are tested every day.
Cousins said he had not personally talked with Allen Sills, the league's chief medical officer, and called the Vikings' team-wide vaccination percentage "a fluid situation," though a league source said the team's rate was the lowest in the league as of this week.
On Tuesday, co-owner Mark Wilf said ownership is "very concerned" with the issue and adding, "We're trying to educate everyone in the organization, the team, to make sure and get the vaccinations."
Whatever issues exist in the organization, Cousins said he doesn't think diverging viewpoints on vaccines will turn players against one another.
"Tight-knit group," he said. "Lot of respect for one another. I don't think it'll be an issue."