When Camille Phillips first learned that quarterback Cam Newton had tested positive for coronavirus, she didn’t know what was going to happen next.
“My heart just dropped,” she recalled in a phone conversation earlier this week. “I didn’t want it to be a big outbreak like we’ve seen in Tennessee.”
She felt for her husband Adrian, an All-Pro safety who signed a two-year contract with the Patriots in March, along with his teammates and coaches. How many more would also test positive? Would the team shut down? Would the league postpone New England’s game?
As they waited for answers, Adrian told Camille the Patriots were going to rally without Newton. He had embraced the team’s motto, “Do Your Job.” But Camille was skeptical.
“That was one of those times when I was like the doctor,” she said. “I was really hesitant, like, ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ He’s like, ‘We’re going to do our jobs. Everything’s going to be fine.’ I was just like, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
Camille, a second-year pediatric resident at Texas Tech, is one of three Patriots wives with a background in medicine. Shahrzad Slater, wife of special teams captain Matthew Slater, and Michelle Powell, wife of fellow captain Devin McCourty, are doctors, too.
The couples' professions have never been more intertwined, as the Patriots and NFL navigate a season amid the coronavirus pandemic. For McCourty, that means he hears a lot of “Told you so” and “You should be doing this” or “You should be doing that.”
“Anyone who is married knows if your wife tells you something and you don’t listen, it doesn’t go well,” McCourty said. “I just try to tell her what I hear from the doctors in the building. If she agrees, she agrees. If she doesn’t, I just try to exit the conversation the best way possible.”
For Adrian, Camille has been a sounding board.
“Honestly, since February, March, I’ve been leaning on her because she’s been on the front lines,” Adrian said. “She’s been on me hard because that was one of her concerns when the season started — just how everything would play out.”
Camille will often give Adrian reminders that align with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Wash your hands properly, social distance as much as possible, and wear your mask over your nose.
Adrian has also made a few adjustments to his personal routine. Instead of going to the mall to pick out an outfit for game day, he’ll online shop with Camille. And instead of picking up food at his favorite Patriot Place restaurant, Skipjack’s, he’ll place an order for contactless delivery.
“She’s just been on me hard in making sure I isolate myself, stay on the Germ-X and Purell, and have a mask,” Adrian said. “Look out for yourself as much as you can.”
Including Newton, the Patriots have placed eight players on the COVID-IR list since the start of the regular season. With each positive test, Camille can’t help but feel a little nervous because she’s witnessed the effects of the virus firsthand.
“I know he’s a super healthy athlete and if he gets it, it most likely won’t hit him hard,” Camille said. “But I still have seen the worst of it. I do have a sense of anxiety every time I hear there’s a positive. I’m just praying he doesn’t get it, too.”
A typical week on Camille’s current rotation, pediatric ICU, consists of a 24-hour shift, an 18-hour overnight shift, and two 12-hour daytime shifts at the hospital. She is required to wear a surgical mask for the entirety of her shift. If she’s treating a patient with coronavirus symptoms, then she must wear a mask plus a face shield. If she’s treating a patient who has tested positive, then she wears a portable respirator.
Because Camille works in Texas, the distance adds an element of stress. Last season, when Adrian suffered a broken arm in Week 2 as a member of the Los Angeles Chargers, Camille flew out immediately to be with him for his surgery as well as the following week. She’s not sure if the same response would be possible if Adrian were to test positive.
“It’s difficult being away,” she said. “If he does test positive, can I get to him? Can I take care of him? Or would that be a risk for me and my patients? I also want to be there for my husband.”
Overall, Camille has been pleased with how the Patriots have responded to their positive tests, particularly the speed at which they’ve closed their facilities.
She was also happy to see that the team didn’t rush Newton’s return. Prior to the second postponement of the Patriots-Broncos game, it was unclear if Newton was going to be available even though he was eligible to be cleared.
“Cam is like the heart and soul of the team,” she said. “He’s our quarterback. You need him. Even with that being the case, them not rushing him back even though he’s asymptomatic is really commendable.”
Camille approves of many aspects of the league’s protocol — daily testing, for example, she says is key — but she expressed disappointment with the decision to have the Patriots travel to Kansas City so soon after Newton’s positive test, a sentiment shared by several players.
“I personally don’t think the game should have been played, but that’s me,” she said. “When there’s a positive test, I would like to see a quicker delay of games.”
Moving forward, Camille’s advice to Adrian remains the same: Wash your hands, social distance, and wear your mask. She’ll also add in more specific reminders, such as encouraging him to limit his interactions with the opposing team after games.
“Try not to go in for the hugs, the handshakes,” she said. “When you see your friend, you want to hug them and talk to them, but just try and maintain that distance. Maybe FaceTime them from the locker room instead.”
Since Adrian left for training camp, Camille’s been able to see him in New England twice, and she plans to again in two weeks. In order for her to visit, she must produce a negative test before she leaves. Once she arrives, she has to go to the team’s facility and produce another negative test.
“I feel like the Patriots overall are doing a good job and taking it really seriously, which I appreciate,” she said.
Camille has yet to meet Shahrzad and Michelle, but she’s hopeful the three can eventually connect and discuss their unique perspectives.
“As a wife and as a fan of football, I love the game, I love the sport,” Camille said. “As a doctor, I see things that make me hesitate. I think there’s a fine line.”
Nicole Yang can be reached at email@example.com.