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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick urged fans Wednesday to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, joining other prominent sports figures who have used their platforms to aid response efforts in recent days.
“We are facing a difficult opponent,” Belichick said in a message on the Patriots’ social media platforms. “It will take teamwork, discipline and commitment to do the right things all the time. That includes staying at home. I encourage everyone to shelter in place for as long as necessary as we fight this virus together.”
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U.S. businesses and sports leagues have come to a halt in recent days as authorities enact social distancing protocols and bans on mass gatherings. There were more than 213,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus, in the U.S. as of Wednesday, the highest total of any nation of the world.
Like other NFL teams, the Patriots have effectively ceased offseason activities and closed team facilities due to the pandemic. In his message, Belichick thanked health care workers for their efforts on the front lines of the crisis.
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“Thank you to our heroic medical professionals – doctors, nurses, medical workers and others who are selflessly and courageously doing their jobs to take care of others in need,” Belichick said. “We have heard your stories and seen some of your great work. You are truly champions and warriors.”
Belichick is the latest of several prominent NFL figures to back calls for social distancing. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton made a similar plea to fans after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. Payton is still recovering from the illness.
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The outbreak forced the NFL to cancel its annual owners meeting scheduled for this week, though the league’s draft is set to occur as scheduled from April 23 to April 25. At present, the status of the NFL’s 2020 season is unclear, though league officials haven’t given any indication that its start will be delayed.
Belichick and the Patriots will look to move forward without longtime quarterback Tom Brady, who signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last month.