Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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6 OCT. 17, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL N otre Dame head athletic trainer Rob Hunt made dueling confir- mations in an Oct. 1 press conference. Hunt revealed what caused Notre Dame football's COVID-19 outbreak, and one item that didn't. Shortly af- ter, head coach Brian Kelly followed with another area that proved not to be a problem. Notre Dame determined the virus spread through a pregame meal be- fore the Sept. 19 game against South Florida and a drop in attentiveness to basic protocols like mask-wearing in the locker room, among other things, per Hunt. Those are disappointing ad- missions in this never-ending effort to stave off COVID-19 cases, but correct- able issues. An outbreak caused by controllable lapses feels less daunting than one that popped up amid air- tight protocols with perfect adherence. The intrigue, and perhaps more im- portantly optimism, lies in events that did not occur. Hunt said player inter- actions with their families on game week was not a source of infection or spread. No family members were symptomatic before or after visiting, and none appear to have become in- fected from interactions with players. "That was one of my biggest con- cerns prior to the start of the season," Hunt said. "It was a new group of people we were bringing into our tight-knit group." But more importantly, Kelly con- firmed there was no detectable on- field spread from an already-infected Notre Dame team to South Florida. Per Kelly, USF had no positive tests in the days following its visit to Notre Dame. Evidence of on-field transmission would have cast a pall over the hope of completing a sea- son. Instead, Notre Dame's focus can rest solely on how to prevent spread within its ranks. Its opponents can say the same. Cases discovered after the game won't automatically usher in the harrowing thought about an inevitable prior opponent outbreak. "As it relates to the on-field spread, in that instance, there was some chance there it could have spread, and it did not," Kelly said. "The way the game is played, where there is not the duration of contact over a long period of time, it minimizes the spread. It appears that way. I'm not an expert. All we're doing is pick- ing up a lot of these trends as we see them, and that seems to be the case right now. Stay tuned. We'll see." As long as it is, there's reasonable optimism surrounding this season's viability, especially when considering two potentially harmful occurrences. First, Notre Dame had players in the game against USF who were likely exposed to the virus before the game and tested positive two days later — yet tested negative the day before. In and of itself, that's a scary thought, even if their viral load was not very high when they were tested and during the game. Furthermore, Hunt isn't entirely sure the contact tracing from the day before the USF game weeded out ev- eryone it needed to. "It's speculative and a guess, but it's an educated guess that allowed some of those guys to test positive Monday," Hunt said. "It certainly shows a source of potential concern for us moving forward." The apparent lack of on-field spread to USF lessens such concern from doomsday to something below that. It's still not at all ideal to have instances of incomplete tracing or yet- to-be-discovered positive cases play- ing in a game, but so far, evidence suggests such slip-ups won't be cata- strophic and harm multiple teams. As with anything regarding CO- VID-19, that's subject to change. "That would make this almost un- tenable if you were worried about on-field spread," Kelly said. HOW NOTRE DAME'S CASES SPIKED The amount of cases Notre Dame had, or anything remotely close to it, is reason for alarm. A lack of evi- dence of on-field transmission isn't reason to push forward if cases within a team climb too high or are uncontrolled. At the Notre Dame outbreak's peak, 39 players were ei- ther in isolation due to testing posi- tive or in quarantine after contact tracing identified possible exposure. The latest numbers, released Oct. 5, showed 11 total players out. Seven of those are due to positive tests. The other four are in quarantine due to contact tracing. "We looked at everything," Hunt said. "Certainly, our meal may have been a part of that. But there are some other opportunities for us to look at what we're doing and deter- mine there were some areas where UNDER THE DOME LAPSES IN PROTOCOL Notre Dame's virus outbreak was traced to off-the-field situations Notre Dame head athletic trainer Rob Hunt revealed that the COVID-19 outbreak among the Irish football team was primarily spread during a pregame meal Sept. 19, along with some breaks in mask-wearing protocol in the locker room. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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