The first three weeks of the NFL season went miraculously well, with players, coaches and other staff members remaining COVID-19 free. The NFL has administered thousands of tests to date, and made it through the first three games of the season before the first breakout of positive cases: a massive outbreak that has ripped through the Tennessee Titans’ locker room. As of Thursday, Oct. 8, the Titans are up to 23 cases between players and staff. The infections have continually increased since the beginning of last week. The Titans have already had to postpone their Week 4 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this upcoming week’s matchup against the Buffalo Bills looks increasingly unlikely.
Because of how rampant the virus had been through the Titans, the NFL has begun an investigation to see if the Titans were flawed in their prevention guidelines in the facility, or if players were not doing everything to keep themselves out of harm’s way. Multiple players have already been fined and face potential suspension for practicing outside of the team’s facilities after being issued an order to quarantine, including starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Fans and analysts alike are speculating as to how strict the NFL will be if they hand out punishments beyond fines. Because of how short the season is, and how much preparation goes into each week, it will be extremely difficult to fit in extra games before the postseason. But due to the short season and how much every game means, it is hard to imagine the NFL will cause teams infected to forfeit. Tennessee’s contest against Pittsburgh has been rescheduled to Week 8, which was initially intended to be a contest between the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, flexing the Ravens-Steelers game to Week 7 and giving the Ravens Week 8 as their bye week. Pittsburgh and Tennessee are both now utilizing this week, Week 4, as their bye week.
The virus has recently found its way into the locker room at Foxborough, as the New England Patriots were informed last Friday that starting quarterback Cam Newton tested positive and was immediately ruled out against the Kansas City Chiefs. Newton tested positive on Friday, Oct. 2, and for the safety of all players and staff present for New England and Kansas City’s game, testing was conducted throughout the week in New England’s locker room. Additionally, the contest, originally scheduled for Sunday, was flexed to Monday night at 7 p.m.
The Patriots had to postpone their flight to Kansas City from Saturday until Monday, which forced them to have to travel on the day of the game. The Patriots only had three hours to check into their hotel before their busses would depart for Arrowhead Stadium. The Patriots then made it through their gameday without another positive test. However, on Wednesday morning Patriots star cornerback Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19. The former defensive player of the year is one of two new cases to pop up with New England, the other being practice squad defensive tackle Bill Murray. It is unclear whether or not Gilmore infected any players in Kansas City, such as star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whom Gilmore shook hands with following their contest. The NFL is continuing to regularly test all players involved in the contest to monitor the spread of the virus. Which direction the Patriots will now go in having already had limited time together since Newton’s positive test result, and now without their facilities due to new cases resurfacing, remains to be seen. Coach Bill Belichick announced that the Patriots will continue to prepare for Sunday’s matchup against the Denver Broncos, but it will be interesting to see if the virus continues to spread through the Patriots’ locker room. As of now, it appears they have it relatively contained and have kept the spread minimal, but because of the virus’ ability to hide during the incubation period for up to 14 days, only time will tell how many of the players truly have it.
The MLB also had issues with keeping the spread under control at the start of their season, with cancellation initially looking likely, but the league was able to get it under control after those initial hiccups. The hope is that the NFL will be able to get the virus handled and minimize the spread going forward, as their massive rosters and vast spacing make a bubble situation all but impossible.