Houston Texans wide receiver Brandin Cooks (13) catches a pass against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

First-year Texans coach David Culley learned a lot about how to deal with COVID-19 protocols when he was an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens last season.

It’s a next-man-up mentality while following whatever NFL guidelines for protocols are in place. Clearly, Culley took heed to the lessons learned in Baltimore when he and the coaching staff creatively guided the Texans through a brief two-game winning streak while dealing with key players in and out of practice and the lineup while adhering to the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols.

“We’ve kind of taken that same approach and just kept away the distractions and disruptions of what’s going on around us and just kept focus on what we have to do and doing our jobs,” said Culley, whose team’s winning streak stalled at two games following last weekend’s loss at San Francisco. “I think that’s been the biggest thing that I’ve learned in being here.”

Sports across the board are having to take what they’ve learned about how to deal with this potentially life-threatening virus and apply it on the fly as the new omicron variant of the coronavirus is wreaking havoc on the world.

The fallout from the rapid spread has affected virtually all sports teams in the Houston area. The Texans, for instance, had 13 players out on COVID-19 protocol during Week 16, including key players like leading wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive lineman Jonathan Greenard and kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn.

The Rockets have also had key players in and out of their lineup, such as Jae-Sean Tate, Garrison Mathews, D.J. Augustin and K.J. Martin due to protocols.

The Texas Southern, Prairie View A&M and University of Houston basketball teams have had to forgo recent games because either they or their opponents were caught up in the protocols. The Panthers men’s basketball team had to forfeit their Jan. 3 SWAC opener against Grambling State due to protocols within their program.

Dealing with disruptions caused by the pandemic isn’t new. That has been a reality since the initial outbreak brought everything, including sports, to a near standstill in the spring of 2020.

But what is new is that the sports world seems determined to stay the course within the guidelines of the respective sports leagues and college conferences. That has meant pauses, forfeits and amendments to protocols that have been in place, but no shutdowns or limits on fan attendance this time around – so far.

With the postseason fast approaching, the NFL has scaled back the number of days a vaccinated player has to quarantine from 10 days to five days provided the player has two negative tests in a row.

The SWAC, which last year instituted a policy that if a basketball team has at least seven available players and one coach then it can compete, has now added a new rule that if a league game is missed because of COVID that a forfeit will be accounted against the infected team or teams. The UH Cougars were recently assessed a forfeit because of a protocols issue within the program prior to their game against Cincinnati, in accordance with American Athletic Conference guidelines.

“It’s adjusting again to COVID,” said TSU Athletic Director Kevin Granger, whose men’s and women’s basketball programs have seen non-conference games canceled in recent weeks but not because of outbreaks from the Tigers side. “We understood going into his sporting season that COVID wasn’t gone. Obviously, we didn’t think it would ramp back up there to the level it has but it has because of the new variant that is out there.

“Everybody is adjusting now and kind of reconditioning themselves like starting COVID over with the new variant. We are making the adjustments on our end to make sure our student-athletes remain safe and as healthy as possible.”