Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2020

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

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Page 6 of 55 OCT. 17, 2020 7 UNDER THE DOME we were loose in maintaining the strict discipline approach." Specifically, they identified mask protocol lapses — in enforcement and adherence — as a spreading agent. Team meals are a necessary unmasked event. In Notre Dame's eyes, locker room time, sidelines and practice mingling are not. "We may have gotten a little loose in some ways we operate in our locker room in terms of our mask compliance, spacing on the sidelines and activities being done there," Hunt said. "These are speculative, but as we looked at the clusters we had, position groups they were, how we contact traced the spread, there are areas we can get better." All told, the Sept. 22 decision to pause practices and postpone the Sept. 26 game at Wake Forest was rooted in a lack of control and too many absences. When the decision was made, Notre Dame understood the lat- est round of positives weren't going to be the last. And they weren't. Eighteen more followed in the next few days, leading to about one-third of the roster absent because of COVID-19 issues. "We didn't feel like through our testing we had the spike under control yet," Kelly said. "That was No. 1. Then No. 2, would we be risking an individ- ual by playing [him] well beyond the threshold of the amount of plays [he] should be playing in the game? When we looked at one and two, that's how we made our decision." With one more open date on the schedule (Nov. 21) – on a day where everyone else in the ACC has games, no less — Notre Dame has little mar- gin for another slip-up that leads to a canceled game. An asymptomatic case or two cannot morph into something worse if the Irish want to play the rest of their scheduled games. "We're in a different place, and we don't have the kind of luxury we did earlier," Kelly said. "But we still have to use both of those as we evaluate if something happens further." HOW NOTRE DAME ADJUSTED Notre Dame's fixes to try to prevent another flare-up include changing the location of its pregame meals to a larger convention center in down- town South Bend, de-densifying the locker room, increased distancing on the sideline and a stricter enforcement of mask-wearing at all times when the team is gathered but not on the field. All tweaks and decisions are made in consultation with St. Joseph County deputy health officer Dr. Mark Fox. Hunt says there will be a "zero tol- erance" policy for mask infractions, which he believes generated from an overall drop in edge and apprecia- tion for the virus' unrelenting nature. "A negative test doesn't mean you're free and clear from the virus at that point," Fox said. "It just might mean you had a viral load low enough that you didn't test positive. We're going to tighten those pieces up and have strict adherence to the policies and proce- dures we had prior to this outbreak. "Prior to September, we had 12 or 13 positives leading into the season. Now, we're looking at 30 positives in the month of September. We need to get back to the detailed work that we had prior." Among Kelly's personal fixes is being a necessary buzzkill during or after games — by curtailing celebra- tions after big plays or in the locker room following a victory. It's an easy fix in execution but difficult by nature. No one can say for sure, but Kelly suspects celebrations and the up- close contact they entail could have facilitated spread. "It's so hard to win, and then when you do win, the first thing out of my mouth is 'Hey, stop celebrating and put your mask on,'" Kelly said. "You have to do that. That's probably what we're all learning is that it's so hard given the circumstances that we're in that we have to be on top of every little thing. "That's just kind of a tidbit as to what has been challenging." "When there is celebration, espe- cially after a big play, touchdown or in the locker room and guys are ex- cited, and you look back and someone turned positive, you wonder about the potential face-to-face spread there." All of those changes, though, are smaller-scale and simple. Testing plans hold the key to detecting cases and potential spread as early as possi- ble. The Big Ten and Pac-12 reinstated football this fall because they could secure daily testing. They have done so for the basketball season as well. As of now, Notre Dame is making only minor tweaks to its testing plan. The primary change is the availabil- ity of rapid antigen tests on the side- line during games. Everything else is staying the same. The team is tested three time per week, in accordance with ACC rules, and it tests players who engage in the most contact (usu- ally linemen) every day. "Daily testing might be a piece we end up at, but I know that's beyond where I'm at," Hunt said. "I know Dr. Fox was very comfortable with our [testing]. We have a little bit of a blend of everything. "On the backside of this cluster outbreak, I feel good about where we're at with our testing." ✦ One of head coach Brian Kelly's personal fixes is being a necessary buzzkill during or after games — by curtailing celebrations following big plays and in the locker room after a victory. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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