New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Thursday the organization will continue to prioritize health over football after quarterback Cam Newton and cornerback Stephon Gilmore were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list over the past week.
Belichick told reporters "it's the health and safety of the team first and football second."
"There's nothing more important than the health of the team," he said. "Without a healthy team, you don't have a team. That's priority No. 1, and I'd say not only to our team but to their families and people that are close to them. That's always our No. 1 concern. We try to do everything we can to make that the best we can make it. That's the way it's always been, and that's not going to change."
The Patriots closed their team facilities after Gilmore's positive test result, and Belichick said he's not sure when in-person activities will resume as the team prepares to host the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium in a Week 5 game Sunday.
"We continued our preparation for Denver with virtual calls, and we'll just kind of take the situation day by day," he said. "When we feel that it's safe for everyone to come back, we'll do that. We all have questions, and this is really more of a medical situation than a football situation. We'll work through the decisions and input from the people in the medical field—combination of Patriots and league."
Newton missed Monday night's 26-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, a game pushed back one day after positive COVID-19 tests on both teams. He will be eligible to return if he remains asymptomatic for five days after the positive test and produces negative results on back-to-back days, according to ESPN.
Meanwhile, the Patriots recorded no new positive tests Thursday and will wait for one more round of testing before deciding whether to reopen the facilities, per Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.
After Sunday's game against the Broncos, the Pats are scheduled to have their bye in Week 6 followed by games in 11 consecutive weeks to finish the regular season. It leaves limited options should New England be unable to take the field this week.
The NFL is already facing a similar quandary involving the Tennessee Titans, who had their bye moved up to Week 4 because of a coronavirus outbreak. Now it's unlikely their game against the Bills will be able to take place Sunday because of additional positive results, per Tom Pelissero of the NFL Network.
It could ultimately lead the league, which didn't build any additional time into its standard 17-week schedule, to add an 18th week for make-up games.