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Notre Dame Football

After outbreak, Notre Dame overhauls COVID guidelines

October 2, 2020

Thursday's return to practice did not mean a return even to the norm for Notre Dame football.

Rather, on the heels of a massive COVID-19 outbreak which eventually resulted in 25 of Notre Dame's 30 positive tests last month and forced the Fighting Irish to immediately cease football activities on Sept. 21, the football program overhauled its pandemic protocols in many areas.

To wit: players' entrances into the Fighting Irish locker rooms have been further tailored into more separated times; meals have been adjusted to afford even greater social distances amongst the team; pre-game meeting areas have been switched.

“(The outbreak) forced us to review all of our systems,” said Irish head athletic trainer Rob Hunt. “I think we've done a thorough review in terms of where that's at with the help of Mark Fox (Deputy Health Office, St. Joseph County), our contact tracing team, all of our operational staff, we have looked deeply into where we're at and how did we get to where we were.

“We focused on locker room housing, meals, looked at our hotel operations, any field activities we reviewed film and tried to figure out where our issues were.”

Added coach Brian Kelly, “We’ve changed up our pregame-meal scenario. We’re going to be using another facility across the street that gives us much more room and allows us to socially distance, but also from a meal preparation standpoint, control it to our liking. We’ve examined everything.”

After first bringing back football players to campus in June and then following that up with more athletes and finally the general student population in early August, Notre Dame often had touted the football program's excellent management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fighting Irish had a better-than-99-percent negativity rate within the football program's testing through the first week of September.

Then Notre Dame had eight players held out of its game against South Florida on Sept. 19, though it did not specify each of the eight individuals was withheld from competition due to COVID-19 concerns.

By the end of September, Notre Dame had seen 30 positive COVID-19 tests just within that month and also had placed into isolation or quarantine nearly 40 players.

Changes had to be made.

“I think we may have gotten a little loose in some areas in terms of how we operate in our locker room, some mask guidelines,” Hunt said.

Kelly said Notre Dame had to get its COVID-19 outburst in check that manifested almost immediately after the USF game while it revamped guidelines before the Irish could look at playing another game. That's the root of the decision to have Notre Dame (2-0) play Wake Forest on Dec. 12 in Winston-Salem rather than the originally scheduled Sept. 26; it also ensured the ACC would play its conference title game on Dec. 19 rather than its initially scheduled Dec. 12 date after the Irish shut down and essentially vacated last week the Guglielmino Complex.

“We didn’t feel like, through our testing, that we had the spike under control yet,” Kelly said. “That was number one. Number two, would we be risking a particular individual by playing them well beyond the threshold of the amount of plays that they should be playing in a game. That was part two. When we looked at one and two, that’s how we made our decision.

“Moving forward, certainly we’re in a different place and we don’t have the kind of luxury we did earlier, but we’ll still have to use both of those as we evaluate if something happens further.”

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