The league’s protocols can be a little convoluted and confusing when it comes to the moment the window opens for a COVID-positive player to return to action. The typically evasive nature of coach Bill Belichick when asked simple questions about the subject makes it even more convoluted and confusing.
Belichick told reporters on Saturday that he doesn’t expect quarterback Cam Newton or cornerback Stephon Gilmore to practice with the team today. Belichick otherwise had nothing to say about when/if Newton or Gilmore will return.
“I’m not getting into a bunch of hypotheticals,” Belichick said at one point. “We’re taking it day by day, hour by hour.”
Based on the official protocols, there’s a path for both Newton and Gilmore to return for Monday’s game against the Broncos.
For a player who tests positive but remains asymptomatic, the player can return 10 days after the first positive test — if the team’s head primary-care physician determines, in consultation with the league, that it’s safe for the player to return to the facility. Alternatively, an asymptomatic player may return if he receives negative PCR virus tests, at least 24 hours apart, if (again) the team’s head primary-care physician determines, in consultation with the league, that it’s safe for the player to return to the facility.
This procedure acknowledges that an asymptomatic player who tests positive may not be able to test negative within 10 days, but that he otherwise may not present a risk of spreading the virus. So Newton, even if still positive, can return on Monday.
That rule makes the one-day delay in New England’s game against Denver a huge potential benefit for the Patriots. If the Week Five game hadn’t been moved to Monday, Newton would have been able to return only with a pair of negative tests at least 24 hours apart.
Gilmore won’t fit within the 10-day window, given that he tested positive on Tuesday. He still has a chance to play with a pair of negative tests. While unlikely, it’s still possible.
So New England could have both or neither come Monday night. The safest guest is that they’ll have Newton but not Gilmore.