Henry Ford Athletic Trainer Leading Pandemic Safety Efforts for Detroit Lions

September 10, 2020
Matt Barnes temp screen Coach Patricia

DETROIT – As Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn addressed the news media ahead of players reporting to training camp in July, he detailed the team’s plans to make the practice facility safe during the coronavirus pandemic. As part of those plans, Quinn announced that Henry Ford Sports Medicine athletic trainer Matt Barnes had been tabbed to help quarterback that drive.

“It was actually flattering. I didn’t even know that he (Quinn) mentioned me in the press conference,” said Barnes, one of more than 30 Henry Ford athletic trainers who support sports programs at over 20 high schools, colleges, universities in the tri-county area, and also the Lions and Detroit Pistons. “Anytime the team mentions anything publicly about me I usually find out through my mom.”

In April, the Lions formed internal committees to tackle all the safety protocols needed at their training facility. Barnes, who is the assistant athletic trainer for the team, was appointed Infection Control Officer and named to the team’s Return to Work Committee and to the Infection Response Team. Barnes is entering his fourth season with the Lions.

For Barnes, keeping the players safe throughout training camp has been Job 1.

“Lions’ head athletic trainer Dave Granito and the head team physician asked me to take on the new role of infection control officer particularly because of my affiliation and experience with Henry Ford Hospital,” said Barnes. “They said ‘We want you to run with this position and make it whatever we need it to be.’”

Barnes appreciates the importance of his new role but is quick to remind anyone that making the team’s training facility safe for players has truly been a team effort that also includes Henry Ford Sports Medicine Orthopedic and Infectious Disease physicians Michael Workings, M.D., Bradley Jaskulka, M.D., Kevin Whitlow, M.D., Eric Makhni, M.D. and Geehan Suleyman, M.D.

“This team of doctors help us interpret the protocols so that we can better implement them here at our facility to keep our players and the entire Detroit Lions family safe,” said Barnes.

The safety of the players has been a league-wide effort. Barnes is one of 32 infection control officers responsible for COVID-19 safety protocols at each of the teams’ training sites. The Lions have been praised for their COVID-19 plan and were one of the first five teams to receive approval from the NFL and players association based on their detailed infectious disease emergency response plan.

In addition to his daily assistant athletic training duties with the team, Barnes oversees a comprehensive infection control process. “It’s understanding and implementing new NFL protocols that come out almost daily and adapting those protocols for our specific facility in a way that works best for our team and our organization,” said Barnes.

Some of the necessary changes that have been implemented at the training facility include:

  • Upgraded air filtration
  • Open-air refrigeration systems
  • App which allows players to order pre-packaged dining options
  • Plexiglass dividers in the locker room
  • Shuffled meeting rooms to accommodate for necessary social distancing
  • Single-use towels and uniforms that are then laundered using a new antimicrobial detergent that contains an ionic silver treatment.

“The obvious changes are the wearing of masks while indoors and distancing wherever you can. Also, following the arrows and the signage that provide daily reminders to stay safe,” said Barnes.

Players have also been equipped with an app that helps them monitor their temperature, track any symptoms they may have and answer screening questions. They are also provided a contact tracing device when entering the building that measures how far they’re standing from another person. The data is then stored for contact tracing, if needed.

One of the biggest challenges for Barnes has been getting everyone their required daily COVID-19 test. Before entering the team building, everyone receives a nasal swab test administered in medical trailers located outside of the facility.

“Anytime a player tests as presumptive positive, we remove that player from the building,” said Barnes.

Players receive a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and a point-of-care (POC) test prior to leaving the building to confirm any presumptive or preliminary results. The PCR test is genetic-based and is close to 100% accurate in determining if a person presently has COVID-19, while the POC test is around 95% accurate.

If both tests are negative, the player is classified as an unconfirmed positive or false-positive. The league and the teams continue to adjust this process as more information becomes available about COVID-19 testing.

Since fall not only marks the kickoff for the NFL but also the start of flu season, Barnes’ playbook also includes protecting players against the spread of influenza. Each year, team locker rooms are inevitably hit with the flu bug and since influenza and COVID-19 share similar symptoms, deciphering between the two illnesses will present a bigger challenge this year but one that Barnes and the Lions are ready to take on.

“Every season there is always a viral illness lingering around between November to March that seems to get a few people sick for a few days and cause them to be out of action,” said Barnes. He added that he has not experienced a major outbreak during his four years working with the team thanks to the staff’s constant vigilance and planning.

“Because of the daily testing we do for Covid-19, if a player reported influenza-like symptoms we would be able to rule out coronavirus if the tests are negative,” said Barnes. He points out that allergies also share similar symptoms with influenza and Covid-19, “We are monitoring all the symptoms closely.  Once we have the confirmed negative COVID-19 test, we would then suspect another viral illness and test for type A flu and type B flu using one of our rapid tests that we have at the facility to rule those out as well.”

Any player showing associated symptoms is quarantined at home to avoid the spread of COVID-19, the flu or any other potentially viral illness to the rest of the team.

Many of the measures Barnes and the Lions staff have taken to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission also reduce the risk of all other viral illnesses, “Wearing a mask, distancing, daily disinfecting, contact tracing as well as good personal hygiene will help reduce the likelihood of a major flu outbreak in our building,” said Barnes. “We constantly monitor the flu and other illnesses in the state so that we can watch for trends as they emerge and be ready to ramp up precautions if needed.”

Just like any good quarterback who has to call an audible sometimes, Barnes has learned to be flexible at all times during the pandemic, “Know that everyday things are going to change. League protocols are changing every day, every week,” said Barnes. Everything he and the Lions staff are doing to keep players safe is constantly being evaluated to ensure the team can go out and play football at a high level each week.


About Henry Ford Health System:

 Under the leadership of President and CEO Wright L. Lassiter, III, Henry Ford Health System is a $6.5 billion integrated health system comprised of six hospitals, a health plan, and 250+ sites including medical centers, walk-in and urgent care clinics, pharmacy, eye care facilities and other healthcare retail.

Established in 1915 by auto industry pioneer Henry Ford, the health system now has 32,000 employees and remains home to the 1,900-member Henry Ford Medical Group, one of the nation’s oldest physician groups. An additional 2,200 physicians are also affiliated with the health system through the Henry Ford Physician Network.

Henry Ford is also one of the region’s major academic medical centers, receiving more than $100 million in annual research funding and remaining Michigan’s fourth largest NIH-funded institution. An active participant in medical education and training, the health system has trained nearly 40% of physicians currently practicing in the state and also provides education and training for other health professionals including nurses, pharmacists, radiology and respiratory technicians. For more information, visit henryford.com.




MEDIA CONTACT: Sal Giacona / [email protected] / 313-421-9108