By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Stephon Gilmore tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday night, just a day after he and the Patriots played in the temporarily postponed game between the Patriots and the Chiefs in Kansas City.

After Cam Newton tested positive last Friday, an outbreak within the Patriots organization was seemingly inevitable, based on the patterns of this highly contagious virus. Yet by forcing the Patriots to fly to Missouri and back on the same day, the NFL may have exacerbated that spread.

And now, the NFL has to close its eyes and hope with all of its billion-dollar might that the league did not just introduce the virus to the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Chiefs begin to produce positive tests in the next 2-14 days, it won’t take an epidemiologist to determine where the players contracted the virus.

While the specifics of exactly when an infected person is contagious may be up for debate, some studies indicate that a person can be contagious two to three days before testing positive and/or showing symptoms.

And if that’s the case, the entirety of the Chiefs organization (and the sates of Missouri and Kansas, and the suits at 345 Park Avenue, and TV executives around the country) has to hold their breath after watching this interaction between Gilmore and Patrick Mahomes at the end of Monday’s game:

Stephon Gilmore greets Patrick Mahomes after the Patriots-Chiefs game. (GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Is that exchange enough contact to spread the virus? Perhaps not. Despite us all being in month eight of this pandemic, the answers aren’t ever as clear as we’d all like them to be.

It’s possible — likely, even — that a brief exchange outdoors like that one would not be enough interaction to spread the virus. Yet if you’re Mahomes, how comfortable are you feeling right now? With the virus taking in some cases two weeks to produce a positive test, the reigning Super Bowl MVP will surely be sweating out his daily tests, hoping against hope that they show up negative each day.

Mahomes, though, is of course just one player. He was not the only player with whom Gilmore interacted on Monday, and on top of that, Gilmore almost certainly won’t end up being the only COVID-positive Patriots player to have participated in that football game.

For his part, Mahomes said Wednesday that in showing good sportsmanship, he had a brief mental lapse in getting close to an opponent.

Mahomes shouldn’t beat himself up too badly, as it was the NFL that put him in position to play a contact sport against a team that already had a player test positive.

The NFL had to have known that there was a distinct possibility that despite testing and despite separate airplanes (one for close contacts of Cam Newton, one for everyone else), the incubation period of this virus would dictate that just because Patriots tested negative over the weekend and Monday morning, it did not mean that any of them were guaranteed to not test positive in the days following the game. Such is the way of this contagious virus. (A team traveling to a game with two different planes in an effort to try to mitigate a full-on outbreak might have been the clearest signal that forcing the game to be played may not have been the wisest move.)

And so, with three Patriots now on the COVID-19 list — Newton, Gilmore, and practice squad D-lineman Bill Murray — the NFL is faced with yet another dilemma. Early reports indicate that Sunday’s game between the Patriots and Broncos is on as scheduled, because that is how the NFL has dealt with COVID-19 thus far. Head down, forge ahead, no interruptions.

At some point, the corporation is going to have to learn that doing so only makes situations worse. The Titans continue to produce positive tests in Nashville, eight days after the virus first popped up. The Patriots are a long way out from getting through the woods themselves. And now the Chiefs — who did have a positive case on their practice squad last week, too — have to be on high alert, knowing that they’ve come into close contact with Patriots players who have been close contacts of people who tested positive.

It’s a bad situation as it is. If it spread to the Chiefs, it’s on the precipice of getting exponentially worse.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

Comments (2)
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  2. Arch Stanton says:

    They’ll both be fine. No one is dying of this disease. They’re young and healthy. They’ll be fine. It should be apparent by now that this COVID thing isn’t as dangerous as those in authority were telling us.

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