With just a few hours to go before the matchup between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs was to take place at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., team doctor Dr. Jack McCloskey announced on Friday that he was canceling the game because of new test results that indicated a highly contagious virus.
Dr. McCloskey said the additional testing showed that both New England Patriots players, Marcus Cannon and Devin McCourty, and New England coach Bill Belichick, were positive for the virus. McCloskey said he had “to consider the safety of the players and fans” before making the decision to postpone the game.
On Sept. 25, the team suspended two players, linebacker Dont’a Hightower and defensive lineman Deatrich Wise, following a series of test results that suggested they had contracted a rare virus called EV71, or “carrier disease,” that is known to be spread by contact with an infected person.
During that period, the team has kept members of its training staff and those who have personal associations with the players isolated, according to team spokeswoman Stacey James.
Each day has been a guessing game as to which player and which coach was positive for the virus. The team’s medical staff and members of the medical staff at the University of Massachusetts Medical School had previously reported back negative results for exposure to the virus.
Dr. McCloskey said on Friday that he was most concerned about the positive test results for players McCourty and Cannon, and did not “believe it is appropriate to go ahead and play a game when we have a potential threat.”
He made it clear that he didn’t expect a negative test result for Belichick.
The series of delayed tests posed a challenge for the team in trying to assess the players’ health on game day, the doctor said. There was “a significant difference between someone with the disease and someone who is negative,” he said.
Dr. McCloskey said that for those Patriots players who were negative, they would “most likely be entirely healthy” in three to six months.
And though Dr. McCloskey didn’t anticipate any long-term ramifications for the team and fans from the postponed game, he suggested that playing a postponed game rather than a canceled one might be a more prudent move.
The team’s medical staff had considered the possibility of postponing the game but decided that canceling it was the best possible option, he said.
“We’ve been in discussions for a week and a half about the severity of it,” he said. “We concluded that the message was important enough that it needed to be passed on to the players.”
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Dr. McChesney said, “While we are disappointed to have to cancel the game, we have to follow the protocols outlined in the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ”
His statement made no mention of the fact that none of the other Patriots players were positive for the virus. Instead, it said, “it is our hope that, as we all know, this is a transient risk that no longer exists.”
Dr. McCloskey said he believed the illness would have been over by Monday.
He said he had previously never seen a game postponed for a condition that was not expected to cause long-term damage to a player or their team.
“The first time I heard about the idea was last night,” he said. “I’ve never known an athlete to have a chance to win the Super Bowl and then not play in it.”
Asked if the virus posed a significant threat to players, Dr. McCloskey said he “cannot say” that any player on the team would be at risk for an infection. But he added that, given the negative test results he was familiar with, “I was concerned going forward.”
“The player stood up today, was working hard and working well,” he said. “His teammates were fine. And we couldn’t cancel it. The safety of our players and fans required us to hold the game for precautionary reasons.”
In its statement, the Patriots said that since one team had been testing positive for the virus, “it is in the best interest of our players, fans and staff for the second team to also be treated with this virus.”
The Chiefs’ statement didn’t refer to any player or coach being positive for the virus.