A quarantine odyssey: 16 days alone on farm for Steelers' Vance McDonald (and his dog)

PITTSBURGH -- When Vance McDonald found out that he tested positive for COVID-19 in the early morning hours after a Week 9 win in Dallas, he left the Pittsburgh Steelers' facility and drove straight to his farm more than an hour away.

He called his wife and told her that he would be living in one of the farm's outbuildings for at least the next 10 days.

"I came straight from Dallas with nothing but the clothes on my back," McDonald said Friday. "I called my wife on my way home and said, 'Hey, I tested positive. I've got to quarantine.'

"My father-in-law is battling stage 4 cancer, so his white blood cell count is super low. We want to take it just as serious as if I'm quarantining from the facility. I'm absolutely quarantining when I got home."

McDonald spent 16 days quarantining from his family on the farm, but he wasn't alone.

He had the family's new German shepherd, Nebo, who was raised by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his family during the pandemic and acquired by the McDonalds earlier this season.

"She's like, ‘Obviously you're staying out there, but I'm leaving you our German shepherd,'" McDonald said with a laugh. "I love Will Smith, so that movie 'I Am Legend,' it was just me and our German shepherd just moving throughout the farm by myself. I started talking to him like he was my friend."

He can joke about it now, but the experience wasn't an easy one. McDonald and his wife set up a checkpoint on the land where she could drop off food and clean clothes without being exposed. McDonald's symptoms weren't as severe as some cases, but he said he had "GI issues" on Thursday before the game.

To be safe, team doctors held McDonald out of Friday's practice. But when he returned two negative COVID-19 tests on Saturday, he was cleared to travel to Dallas and play against the Cowboys.

"I felt completely normal and went into Dallas, played against Dallas and then got a message from our head trainer Monday morning ... He said, ‘Hey, your Sunday test tested positive,'" McDonald said. "It's just like, what can you really do? In hindsight, I'm sure the team wished that I would've tested positive. We did everything right. It's not like we overlooked anything or skipped any step."

McDonald went on the NFL's reserve/COVID-19 list Nov. 9 and came off Nov. 23. As a result of his positive test, the Steelers had to put other players, including Roethlisberger and inside linebacker Vince Williams, on the reserve/COVID-19 list as McDonald's high-risk close contacts. Williams went back on the list Thursday.

"At the time, I was miserable because I couldn't see my family for 16 days," McDonald said of his quarantine. "I couldn't come in here for 16 days. But I made it through, and I'm a survivor. There's a small number of us here, but we're all survivors."

Earlier this week, McDonald was presented as the Steelers' nominee for the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his work bringing Convoy of Hope, a faith-based organization that provides food, supplies and humanitarian services to families in need, to Pittsburgh.

"Since all this started, there's been a flurry of negativity in our world. It's just divisiveness," McDonald said. "These walls are being built and put up by people, and I very much look for a way to send a message of hope and just all take a deep breath and relax a little bit. because we don't need all this hate.

"We don't need all this negativity. COVID is certainly dangerous and affecting people, but at the same time, it's nothing that I don't think humanity can overcome. It all starts with love and all starts with caring and compassion."