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Notre Dame Football

After 30 COVID cases, Notre Dame returns to practice

October 1, 2020

After seeing its season screech to a halt after just two games, Notre Dame is preparing today for its first practice in two weeks and welcoming back, in waves, the nearly one-third of its roster returning from COVID-19 isolation and quarantine.

The Fighting Irish (2-0) have not played since a 52-0 win against South Florida Sept. 19 and have not practiced in exactly two weeks. A coronavirus outbreak amongst players and staff is the root of Notre Dame's program-pause that dates to Sept. 21.

In a Zoom Thursday with media, both head athletic trainer Rob Hunt and Irish coach Brian Kelly outlined where the program believes the outbreak traces and the impending return of 23 players across a four-day span extending into Saturday.

“Currently we have 18 players in isolation and 11 players in quarantine,” said Hunt, who noted the Irish's COVID-19 tests after the USF win resulted in 25 total positive tests and elevated to 30 the number of positive tests in September. “Nine players have been released in the last two days, have left quarantine and isolation; 14 more will leave in the next two days.

“Our Monday surveillance test had zero positives, and our Wednesday surveillance test had zero positives. … Currently we've had no hospitalizations, and the majority of our players have had mild to moderate symptoms and have done very well from a recovery process.”

Kelly plainly stated the Irish would be prepared to host Florida State Oct. 10, and have stepped towards a return to a full roster.

“We’re going to be able to prepare the football team to play Florida State,” Kelly said. “In terms of identifying who is available, who’s not available, it’s an exercise that we’re not going to get into other than I can tell you this, we’ve modified our schedule to make certain that we’re taking care of our guys, first in terms of their health. And secondly, preparing in a manner that allows us to get our entire football team back intact.”

Yet Kelly also acknowledged he never has encountered anything such as having to bring back, including staggered conditioning methods, nearly 50% of his roster at any point --- let alone less than a month into a season. The Irish return to the practice field each of the next two days and then have scheduled a full scrimmage for Sunday.

“Look, I’ve been doing it for 30 years. I know how to get individuals back after an injury or a guy who’s been away from the game for a couple of weeks and they’ve done pretty good,” Kelly said. “The difference here is we’ve got to bring the whole team back. It’s important we’re extremely strategic in the way we practice and when we practice. Getting the whole group back together is very, very important. When and how we practice, you can be assured that the timing of this is being calculated as to when we practice and how we practice because we have to be ready for Florida State. Relative to setbacks, we can’t afford another setback the way we had one this past 10 days. Everybody is aware of that. We know we have no wiggle room for the kind of setback that we had. We’ll see if it’s a setback or a pause. How we play against Florida State will be the narrative that everybody writes relative to this either being a pause in dealing with COVID and the realities of it or it was a major setback.”

Hunt shed insight on Notre Dame's campus-established guidelines for testing to return to the team after a positive COVID-19 test – including the requirement of negative Day 4 and negative Day 7 tests – that allow a player to return to exercise. A player – or general Notre Dame student – in isolation must remain in a solitary environment for a minimum of 10 days, per the school's COVID-19 guidelines.

“Once they leave that 10-day period as long as they are asymptomatic on the back-end of that, they're released out of isolation,” Hunt said. “The first day out, they go through our cardiac screening process, EKG, lab work (with Indianapolis-based cardiologist Dr. Richard Kovacs). His team then reviews all those and gives us the OK to begin a slow, progressive, activity regimen. The first day post-clearance may include 20 to 30 minutes' worth of cardiovascular exercise and that's about it. If that goes well, we will begin some on-the-field activity at maybe 50% what would be their previous total. If that goes well, we progress to 70%, maybe 75%, and ease them back into 100% full competitive practice prior to being released to full activity.”

Though Kelly declined to shed light on the number of Irish players both in the team's two-deep depth chart and waiting to get clear of isolation/quarantine protocols, he acknowledged Notre Dame cannot enter into a game situation if a particular position group or individual would be overly depleted or taxed with coronavirus variables.

“I think, really, what you’re looking at is where are you in the handling of the outbreak,” Kelly said. “In other words, has your testing gotten it to the point where you have a handle on it and you know you don’t have any more spread, that you have a clear handle on it? I think that’s part one.

“Part two then becomes, can you put together a team that is at least resembling in some fashion the competitiveness of your group? If you’re missing two quarterbacks or if you don’t have a full offensive line, if you have no rotation at a defensive line, if your critical positions then becomes where you have to play a defensive lineman the entire game, then you’re putting a player at risk. I think that’s kind of how we needed to look at it.”

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