Following quarterback Cam Newton’s positive Coronavirus test on Friday, October 2, the NFL decided to postpone the New England Patriots’ upcoming game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The contest was eventually played just one day after originally being scheduled, however, and a mere three days after Newton’s initial diagnosis. That decision still remains controversial given the virus’ average incubation period of four to six days.
The Patriots, who had to fly to and from Kansas City on the same day as the game, later had two more players who participated in the trip test positive: cornerback Stephon Gilmore was diagnosed with Covid-19 one day after New England’s 26-10 loss against the Chiefs, with defensive tackle Byron Cowart following just this Saturday — prompting the Patriots’ game versus the Denver Broncos to be pushed from Week 5 to Week 6.
Whether or not this could have been prevented by moving Patriots-Chiefs to a different week instead of the 27-hour postponement cannot be said, but it sure seems as if the NFL is only now starting to take incubation periods into account when it comes to formulating its protocols.
The latest update, after, was shared with clubs and Monday and includes an interesting modification to the so-called Treatment Response Protocol (via NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero):
If an individual is identified as a “High Risk” Close Contact, he or she must be isolated immediately and will not be permitted to return to the club facility or to interact with other Tiered Individuals until a minimum of five (5) days have passed since the last exposure to the positive individual occurred (i.e., date of exposure plus five (5) days).
What does this mean? Essentially that the league and its Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills, will take a close look at every new positive case and make a decision on so-called “high risk” close contacts, who would then have to isolate at least five days whether they eventually test positive or not. Had those rules been in effect earlier this month, the Patriots’ game against the Chiefs could naturally have looked quite a bit different.
While Dr. Sills said that “there were no, what we call, high-risk close contacts” after Stephon Gilmore’s positive test result last Tuesday, New England did take some special precautions during its trip to Missouri: approximately 20 people — Gilmore being among them — were isolated from the rest of the team and flew to Kansas City on a separate plane. It is possible that some members of this group might not have been allowed to travel under the league’s revised rules.
The Patriots, of course, did take that trip based on the NFL’s guidelines at the time. They also underwent a testing process on the same day as the game, something that was now also added to the rules:
[B]eginning with Week 6, we will move to PCR testing on game day for all Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals. This includes all players, club tiered staff with game day functions, Traveling Party staff and those Tier 1 and Tier 2 individuals who do not travel with the team or who do not attend a game on game day.
What those new rule changes show is that the league apparently continues to adapt as it goes along based on new cases and evidence. Whether or not this will allow the season to continue with individual clusters appearing remains to be seen. The Patriots, meanwhile, have already had quite a few interruptions over the last two weeks.