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COVID-19 infects top of Broncos' organization as Joe Ellis, John Elway test positive

The Denver Broncos continue to deal with a virus outbreak as the team's highest-ranking officials learned of their positive tests early Tuesday.
Credit: AP Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Coronavirus is so vexing, so heinous, so nondiscriminatory, it got two of the highest-ranking executives of the Denver Broncos.

Joe Ellis, the team’s chief executive officer and president, and John Elway, the Hall of Fame quarterback and Broncos’ general manager for the past 10 seasons, learned early Tuesday they have tested positive for COVID-19.

Elway was not feeling well Monday morning when he reported for COVID testing. He immediately informed team trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos, who sent Elway home for the day.

Ellis was not feeling well Sunday morning, called Antonopulos, and for the first in 26 years did not attend a Broncos home game — a thrilling, come-from-behind 31-30 win against the AFC West rival Los Angeles Chargers. He was not in the building last Thursday or Friday, stopped in briefly to pick up a game credential Saturday, and did not go to his office Sunday or Monday, a team source told 9NEWS.

Like all employees working from the team’s UCHealth Training Center headquarters, Ellis and Elway have been taking the COVID-19 test daily since early-August.

“Obviously, it’s unfortunate,'' said Brandon McManus, the Broncos' kicker and player rep. "Hopefully, they have no symptoms and are going to be OK. I’m glad that some positives of the staff members haven’t affected the game as far as the games are more at risk if the players are positive. So that’s a good sign.

"Our union and the league fought for the players to implement all these boundaries and protocols for us.

“It’s one thing the players will be chatting about. I’m just hoping there’s no ramifications in the schedule and playing the games for us and across the league.”

Avoiding the virus infection at team headquarters has become increasingly difficult in recent weeks. Three Broncos’ assistant coaches – Curtis Modkins, Mike Munchak and Ed Donatell – have been placed in the COVID protocol, as has starting right guard Graham Glasgow. In addition, multiple staff employees have tested positive.

Credit: AP Images

In a conference call with NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills on Tuesday, 9News asked if the number of virus cases associated with the Broncos can be considered an outbreak.

"It's certainly a concerning situation and we've been in extremely detailed and regular contact with the Broncos' organization,'' Dr. Sills said. "They've been incredibly cooperative with us and share the exact goal we do, which is getting a handle on any transmission that might be going on.

"I know everyone in the organization -- the coaching staff, the medical staff, the players -- everyone is concerned and is working with us on that. I think we know there are areas in the country which are spiking with numbers of cases that increases vulnerability and we have to look at where we think are likely sources of infection."

The surrounding city of Denver area has seen a spike in virus cases recently, causing Mayor Michael Hancock and other metro country officials to implement tighter restrictions on businesses.

"To date, we've not seen transmissions as extensively within the building as we have coming from outside,'' Dr. Sills said of the Broncos. "But again, we are taking additional additional steps in Denver as we have in other situations to try to block off any transmissions or any vulnerability and continue to monitor that.

"As you mentioned to date there's only been one player that's affected. But we've been working very closely with that club. We'll continue to do so. We've talked to the local public health authorities there and state as well and all of us share the same concern.

"But again we have the data on who's been in contact with who and how much risk and exposure there is to different individuals. I think the club again has done an excellent job in implementing our intensive protocols in minimizing exposure within the team facility. And so at this point we feel comfortable that there's not ongoing transmission among the players and the day-to-day operations. But it's something we're going to have to continue to monitor very carefully."

Among the cautionary enhancements the league is implementing is expanding the sideline bench areas from between the 30-yard lines to between the 20s. 

Modkins recovered and returned to the team last week. Munchak, Donatell and Glasgow remain self-isolated at home. And now so will Ellis and Elway. Ellis informed team employees via e-mail of his positive test around 7 a.m. Tuesday. Ellis and Elway will continue to work from home.

They had very few close contacts and none that were lengthy.

The Broncos have put out a statement on the positive virus tests for the two top officials in their organization:

“Broncos President & CEO Joe Ellis as well as President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway were informed this morning they tested positive for COVID-19.

After not feeling 100 percent on Sunday morning, Joe promptly reported his symptoms to our medical team and watched Sunday’s game at home as a precaution. He continued to work from home on Monday before receiving a positive test result this morning.

John immediately left UCHealth Training Center on Monday morning after experiencing minor symptoms that he quickly brought to the attention of our medical staff.

Other than mild symptoms, both Joe and John are doing well. They will continue to work from home in self-isolation and participate in virtual meetings while their health is monitored.

Based on a review of contact tracing data with the league, we are confident these cases originated independently outside team facilities. There were minimal close contacts identified for each (no players or coaches), and those individuals have been notified.

While our facilities are closed for Election Day, coaches are conducting their game preparations today remotely as a precaution. Our organization will remain in communication with the NFL, making all decisions in consultation with the league and based on guidance from medical experts.”

The Broncos canceled practice last Friday after Glasgow tested positive, but otherwise contact tracing data has allowed them to carry on with practices and their regular-season schedule.

The league gave all players the day off Tuesday to make sure they would have the opportunity to vote on Election Day. The 3-4 Broncos return Wednesday to resume preparations for their game Sunday (kickoff at 11 a.m. MST) at Atlanta against the 2-6 Falcons.

So the Bronco players are not worried about the virus to the point they believe the season should be shut down for a while?

“No, not at all,” McManus said.

Meanwhile, the NFL trade deadline expires at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Unrelated to Elway feeling ill with the virus, the Broncos are not expected to make a deal as their 3-4 record along with an extra seventh AFC playoff spot leaves them as neither sellers or buyers in the trade market.    

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