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Patriots head coach Bill Belichick explains why players can return even without a negative Covid-19 test

Related: Patriots quarterback Cam Newton now eligible to return off Reserve/Covid-19 list

NFL: SEP 27 Raiders at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Under the NFL’s Coronavirus guidelines, quarterback Cam Newton is now eligible to return to the New England Patriots: 10 days have a passed since he was first diagnosed, and he remained asymptomatic throughout this entire process. But, wait, you may ask, wouldn’t Newton have to test negative before being allowed to rejoin his teammates?

Well, it’s not that easy. While, yes, an asymptomatic player can return after producing two negative tests with 24 hours in between them, there also is a rule that allows players to come back after a 10-day period — given that they have not developed any symptoms associated with Covid-19 — even if they remain positive. How does that make any sense? Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has the answer to that question.

“I think what you’re going to find is, if a person has the Covid virus, that they’re going to continue to test positive for a significant period of time. It could, I don’t know, 30 or 60 days. I’m not sure, I’m not a doctor here,” Belichick said during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni and Fauria Show on Monday. “But it depends on how much the body and how quickly it sheds the virus, but not at a contagious state. So that’s really what it’s about.

“If you’re just looking at testing on somebody who’s tested positive, they’re going to be testing positive for a long time. We saw that, and many teams — I’ve talked to many other coaches — saw the same thing. Guys that had it in the spring or in the summer continued to test positive into training camp. But that was based on the, whatever it is, 60 or 90 days — I forget exactly what the timetable is. But from the first positive test, there’s a certain period of time where they basically expect those tests to be positive.”

Newton is the first Patriot allowed to return via this stipulation, and could therefore be back on the field once the team starts its on-field preparation for the upcoming game against the Denver Broncos later this week. Defensive tackle Bill Murray will be allowed back via the 10-day rule on Wednesday, followed by cornerback Stephon Gilmore on Thursday and eventually defensive tackle Byron Cowart one week from today.

As noted above, however, all players to return after the mandatory 10-day isolation period will have to remain asymptomatic ever since the initial positive test. They also need to be given the green light from NFL and team medical personnel.

“Look, this whole area is really a medical discussion, it’s not a football discussion,” said Belichick. “Frankly, it’s not something that I’m qualified to talk about. It’s really more of a situation that we rely on our medical staff, our doctors, our trainers and consultation with the league’s medical team, and that’s really what all this is about. You can’t expect a football coach to manage a hospital or make medical decisions on something like this. There’s no team in the league that’s doing it that way. This is at a different level.”

The Patriots will take on the Broncos this week, after the game had to be postponed following Byron Cowart’s positive Coronavirus test. While neither Newton nor Gilmore were expected to be available for the contest, there is a chance that one or both are with the team this week — even if they continue to test positive.