The Patriots have canceled practice through Thursday after All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore became at least the club’s second player to test positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
Quarterback Cam Newton returned a positive test last Friday, and the club also placed rookie Bill Murray on the COVID-19 reserve list, though it’s unclear if the practice squad defensive tackle tested positive or was exposed to someone who had been.
The Patriots are scheduled to host the Broncos on Sunday afternoon and will continue their preparations remotely with the possibility they can return to the practice field Friday.
Similar to Wednesday, players and coaches will still need to report for testing Thursday as the team plays a waiting game to see if any other players test positive.
Wednesday and Thursday are generally the two most important practices of the week as that is normally when the game plan is installed.
Bill Belichick, who normally meets with the media Wednesday, is expected to speak to reporters Thursday morning with an update on the team’s plans.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio said on a Wednesday video call that none of his players have expressed any concerns about traveling to New England, and as far as he’s concerned, it’s all systems go for the 4:25 p.m. kickoff.
"We’re just confident here that the league, along with the players' union, is going to handle everything correctly, but nothing has been done or said either way other than plan as normal,'' Fangio said.
Gilmore, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was officially placed on the COVID-19 reserve list Wednesday. He played in Monday’s night loss in Kansas City and was his usual dominant self. Gilmore allowed one catch for 10 yards on a pair of targets and also forced a fumble.
He took to Twitter Wednesday afternoon to post that he was “asymptomatic” and to remind people take the virus "seriously.''
"Thank you to everyone who has reached out since hearing about my positive COVID-19 test. Your messages aren’t unseen and are greatly appreciated,'' Gilmore wrote. "I am currently asymptomatic and will take this as it comes. I don’t know what to expect, but my spirit is high because of God. I’ve followed every protocol, yet it happened to me. Please be sure to take this seriously.''
Newton, who is also reported to be asymptomatic, according to Fox Sports, also reached out via social media, tweeting a picture of himself in a mask with the message, "Wear your mask — keep your distance.''
The NFL has adjusted its policies on players returning from the COVID-19 reserve list. Gone is the mandatory five-day waiting period for asymptomatic players.
If Gilmore or Newton are asymptomatic and can return two negative tests 24 hours apart since their initial positive test, they can receive permission from a team doctor to return to play.
After the NFL postponed their game by one day, the Patriots took two planes to Kansas City on Monday, including one that carried approximately 20 members of the organization, including players, who were deemed to have had close contact with Newton. According to The Athletic, Gilmore, who played every defensive snap against the Chiefs, was among that group.
No Chiefs have tested positive for the virus since practice squad quarterback Jordan Ta’amu did so last Friday.
The NFL’s chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, explained the league’s decision to play the game during an interview on NFL Network.
Sills said the NFL conducted contact tracing, viewed video of Newton at Gillette Stadium, and tested players and staffers numerous times before the game. All of those tests came back negative. Sills went on to say the Patriots organization was very cooperative during the process and that no one was deemed to have “high-risk, close contact” with Newton.
"Cam Newton was wearing a mask, he was wearing his tracking device, and everyone around him was wearing a mask,'' Sills said in reference to the video footage.
In light of the increased number of positive tests around the league — the NFL and NFLPA reported that 26 positives were recorded (11 players and 15 other personnel) from Sept. 27 to Oct. 3, up from 6 (2 and 4) during the previous period from Sept. 20-26 — Sills said “every option is on the table,” including pausing the season.
The ongoing outbreak throughout the Titans organization — 16 players are currently on the COVID-19 reserve list — the NFL and NFLPA reiterated to clubs Monday the importance of following the guidelines put in place, including wearing masks properly, physical distancing when possible, and limited locker room access and other areas of team facilities where players and coaches could congregate.