Annnnd, we’re back at it again.
The Patriots have canceled practice Friday and a new player has tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the team has barely been together since last Tuesday. So where did this one begin and what does it mean not just for this week but for the team going forward?
The Patriots were in the facility on Wednesday for workouts but eschewed practicing. They practiced Thursday with only one player – Deatrich Wise Jr. – missing practice.
Wise’s absence was “not football related” and he was spotted in the facility on Friday. I’m hearing Wise is not one of the players testing positive. So whoever did test positive – if it was a player and not someone on staff – was practicing Thursday.
Will the Patriots play their twice-postponed game against the Broncos on Sunday? Will the Broncos shrug and say, “Them’s the breaks…” if the Patriots again make it clear they aren’t comfortable playing? Will the league step in and say, “We knew this could happen. Game on”?
That will probably depend on where these positives originated.
But tracing matters. Is this new? Or is it linked to Cam Newton? While the league has shared plenty of COVID stats, they don’t get into the “who gave it to whom” conversation.
We don’t know whether Newton passed it to Stephon Gilmore or Gilmore contracted it separately (which is why the dinner that did or didn’t occur matters).
We don’t know whether those infections were linked to practice squad defensive lineman Bill Murray or the Sunday positive test for Byron Cowart, which ultimately led to the second Broncos postponement.
Given the team was away from the facility for so long, these are either positives that have been incubating since they came back on the plane from Kansas City or are brand new infections contracted outside the facility.
We don’t know if it was the plane or the visitor’s locker room or a weight bench.
We do know the league and the players union understood there would be positive tests and that there would have to be an amount of plowing through the positives teams engaged in.
We also know that, of all the players the Patriots infected, none apparently were symptomatic and all returned to practice none the worse for wear. And that’s happened throughout the league.
The issue this creates is obvious. There’s a highly communicable virus that’s slowed society to a standstill and contributed to the deaths of more than 200,000 lives in the U.S. that players fear contracting and passing on to others.
But players themselves are at infinitesimally small risk of needing hospitalization and, if they are vigilant about quarantining and sequestering themselves in general, should also be able to protect those around them.
That’s what the numbers show, at least. But do the numbers give enough solace to players who were already on the fence about the wisdom of playing this year?
The stop-start, on-again, off-again nature of what we’re watching is going to test the resolve of everyone involved. And I’ll be surprised if it unfolds as smoothly and congenially as it did last week.
There are breaking points on all sides. For individual players deciding whether or not they'll play if they have misgivings. For teams which both want to support their players but also -- since this is a business -- continue providing the product they've promised networks, advertisers and other franchises that they will deliver. For the league itself which, at some point, will inevitably be forced to argue "acceptable risks."
Are we at a breaking point? The next 24 hours may tell.