Rumblings of displeasure are coming from Foxboro in the wake of the team’s commute to Kansas City for Monday night’s game with the Chiefs.
With three Patriots now having tested positive for COVID-19, a team source said Tuesday it’s time for players and coaches to “worry about our health and safety first and not leave it up to the league.”
The Patriots are scheduled to play the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Gillette. But with Stephon Gilmore, Cam Newton and practice squad member Bill Murray all testing positive and the team being out of the facility until at least Friday, that game is in serious doubt.
Bill Belichick’s Wednesday press conference was cancelled after being initially postponed. Belichick, who’s taken to wearing two masks since Newton’s positive test, has been steadfast about the Patriots being proactive in trying to ward off the virus.
During the first week of training camp, Belichick said, “My impression is, as an organization, as a coaching staff, the support people, the players, there’s a comfort level with what we’re doing and who’s doing it and how we’re doing it and we’re being productive. If concerns or problems come up, then we’ll address those. But right now, I think it’s a good working environment. We’re getting a lot done.”
Concerns were present once Newton tested positive on Friday. Even though there were no other positives with the team or its personnel through Monday, the Patriots took the extra precaution of having individuals Newton was in close contact with fly to Kansas City on a separate plane.
That decision was no doubt informed by the fact the Tennessee Titans had flown to an away game at Minnesota the previous week after a coach tested positive on a Friday. The case count for that team is now at 22 members of the organization.
The CDC states on its website that, in the early stages of infection, its possible the virus will not be detected by testing. The organization also states the virus can be spread by asymptomatic individuals. Also, it says the median length of time for incubation is four-to-five days.
So, with all that information and the Tennessee precedent still playing out, why did the league deem it prudent for the Patriots fly to Kansas City and back?
Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, was asked that on Wednesday by Judy Battista of the NFL Network.
“Anytime we have a positive test, the first thing we do is go through a contact-tracing protocol to look at how many close contacts there may be and that’s exactly what we did in this case,” he explained. “And in reviewing that, we were given information that there were no what we call ‘high-risk’ close contacts. There were some other close contacts who were identified.
“All of those close contacts were tested and screened per our protocol,” Sills continued. “We actually had four days of testing them if you think about it. It was Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
"And we also took the additional step of reviewing the video from inside the Patriots facility to look at the compliance with mask-wearing and what we found there was the compliance was very high. Cam Newton was wearing a mask, he was wearing a tracking device and everyone around him was wearing a mask so that gave us some comfort that given the facts of no additional positive tests, given the apparent compliance of the team and given the way the close contacts were labeled that we could move forward.”
The distinction Sills is making about “high risk” close contacts was something I reached out to the league on because I hadn’t heard that being a factor.
The reply I got was this statement:
“As defined by CDC: “Close Contact” as living in the same household, being within six (6) feet of someone for at least fifteen (15) consecutive minutes, or being in direct contact with secretions from a sick person with COVID-19 (e.g., being coughed on).”
Obviously, the CDC does not address the threat posed by being in a huddle with an incubating individual who is barking out plays for a few days worth of practices. Nor does it cover chest bumps, fist bumps, handshakes, tackling, blocking, close-quarters heavy breathing or anything else that may occur in the course of a week of practice.
That would be up to the league to perhaps add those activities to the list instead of simply using the CDC definition.
But they don’t.
As we watch this week unfold and wonder if the NFL should have just hit pause on Patriots-Chiefs, there’s an old FRAM oil filter commercial that comes to mind. The hook at the end? “You can pay me now. Or you can pay me later.”