Just two days after quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19, the New England Patriots will get on a plane Monday morning, fly halfway across the country and play the Kansas City Chiefs that night at 7:05 p.m. ET.
It’s a risk, and apparently, it’s one the NFL is willing to take as long as Patriots players don’t test positive for COVID-19 en-masse on Monday morning.
Let’s rewind for a bit and examine why this might not be a risk worth taking.
Last week, a Titans player tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. Two days later, a Titans coach tested positive, as well. The Titans traveled to Minnesota on Saturday to play the Vikings on Sunday, and both the infected player and coach stayed home. By Tuesday, eight people in the Titans organization tested positive. By Sunday, 18 people in the Titans’ organization have tested positive, and Tennessee’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers has been rescheduled.
So, there’s precedent in place here. Ten days after the Titans’ initial positive test, people in the organization are still testing positive for COVID-19.
Yet, the NFL has no problem sending the Patriots to Kansas City as long as players on both teams don’t register any positive tests three days after Newton’s and Chiefs practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s initial diagnosis. The CDC recommends quarantining for 14 days after last contact with an infected individual.
The NFL is hoping that everyone ignores the fact that they’re disregarding the incubation period. Newton was tested Friday morning. He was in the Patriots’ facility with teammates and coaches all day. Then later that night, he found out that test had registered a positive result. But the NFL was expecting everyone to say, “Welp, everything is fine!” when test results came back negative Saturday night and Sunday morning just 24-to-36 hours after Newton was in Gillette Stadium.
Hopefully, the NFL comes out of this scot-free. Hopefully, Newton is an isolated case and no one else comes up with a positive result. Hopefully, no one who is getting on that plane Monday is contagious without realizing it.
But that’s a risk. And even ignoring all of the health implications involved with the possibility of coaches or players coming down with COVID, the NFL is risking losing future games at the expense of this one which they could get out ahead of and postpone until a Week 18.
Here’s how that scenario plays out: If Newton infected teammates, then those teammates might not register a positive test yet. They could still spread COVID to other teammates throughout the day Monday. Positive cases could start to appear Tuesday or later in the week which would then cause the NFL to reschedule the Patriots’ Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos.
And that’s probably why the NFL is willing to do this. They’d rather risk pushing back that less interesting Week 5 game than postponing a premier matchup between the Patriots and Chiefs even if it means the possibility of more infections.
And the NFL doesn’t need to pause the season. It doesn’t need to cancel or reschedule any games that don’t need to be canceled or rescheduled. If a team is infection-free, they should play. But it’s way too early to tell if that’s the case with the Patriots. Better safe than sorry is a phrase that comes to mind.
The NFL seemingly learned nothing from the Tennessee outbreak this week and is refusing to be proactive and is, instead, digging in its heels to be reactive.
Hopefully, the league is right. But players and people within the organization can’t be feeling great about getting on that plane or standing on that sideline knowing that they or some of their teammates or coaches could be infected with and spreading COVID-19 without realizing it.