Two days before the New England Patriots were scheduled to fly to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, quarterback Cam Newton was tested positive for the Coronavirus. What followed was a chaotic few days that saw both teams close down their facilities after the Chiefs also had a positive test among their ranks in the form of practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. The game between the two clubs was eventually postponed.
Following two days worth of all-negative tests in both New England and Kansas City, however, the NFL decided to have the highly-anticipated matchup between the last two Super Bowl champions on Monday night — not even 27 hours removed from the originally scheduled date. The timing was not the only questionable aspect of this rescheduling, though: the Patriots also had to fly to and from Missouri on the same day as the contest.
In order to make that trip as safe as possible for all involved, New England decided to split the team into two groups. One plane carried approximately 20 players who had been in close contact with Cam Newton, another the rest of the team and its coaching staff. The precautionary measures apparently gave the league confidence to push through with the game, something the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer also noted on Wednesday.
“Anytime we have a positive test, the first thing we do is obviously go through a contact tracing protocol to look how many close contacts there may be. That’s exactly what we did in this case,” said Dr. Allen Sills during an interview with NFL Network’s Judy Battista. “In reviewing that we were given information that there were no, what we call, high-risk close contacts. There were some other close contacts we identified. All of those close contacts were tested and screened for our protocols.”
The testing and screening process worked well enough for the game to take place without any immediate incidents. However, it could not prevent the virus from spreading afterwards: Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was among the 20 players who had close contact with Cam Newton ahead of his positive test, was himself tested with the Coronavirus late on Tuesday — one day after he played all 56 of New England’s defensive snaps against the Chiefs.
Even in hindsight, however, Dr. Sills defended the league’s decision to reschedule the Patriots’ game in Kansas City only one day after it was originally planned to be played.
“We actually had four days of testing — it was Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday — and we also took the additional step to review the video from inside the Patriots facility to look at the compliance with mask-wearing,” he said on NFL Network. “What we found there was the compliance was very high. Cam Newton was wearing a mask, he was wearing his tracking device, and everyone around him was wearing a mask.”
“That gave us some comfort — given the fact of no additional positive tests, given the compliance of the team, and given the way the close contacts were labeled — that we could move forward. This isn’t a decision we make in isolation. We take that data, we look at it with our experts in infections disease and epidemiology and make what we think is the safest decision for everyone involved.”
Whether or not Newton and Gilmore — and possibly practice squad defensive tackle Bill Murray, who did not travel with the team but was placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list on Wednesday — remain isolated incidents remains to be seen. Given the circumstances and the fact that he participated in a game just one day before, Gilmore’s positive test is obviously concerning beyond the personal and medical perspective involved.
The NFL may not have an outbreak in New England at their hands just yet, but as the Tennessee Titans showed situations can escalate rather quickly when it comes to the Coronavirus. Dr. Sills, however, seems to have trust in the league’s infectious disease protocols.
“We’re obviously concerned about that,” he said about Gilmore’s positive test. “Anytime you have a positive case you know that there can have been exposure. So, we’re looking in both markets, both in Kansas City and in New England. We closed the New England facility today. We will take the measures to do the initial contact tracing that we have to do, and we’ll see what the next several days reveal to us in terms of positive tests, if there are any.
“Obviously, we hope and pray that there are none and we want to make sure that the indexed player gets the appropriate care. We’re monitoring the situation very carefully. We’ll have to take it day-by-day in terms of the best decision for everyone involved.”
Is moving Patriots-Chiefs from Monday to Sunday falling under the same category? That much can be questioned considering today’s developments.