The University of Iowa football program paused all workouts and team meetings late Monday as an undisclosed number of players, and six coaches tested positive for COVID-19.
Despite the inability to gather, and the fact that most other bowl-eligible Big Ten programs have shut down, school officials say the No. 15 Hawkeyes (6-2) still want to play against Missouri (5-5) at the TransPerfect Music City Bowl in Nashville, TN, next Wednesday. Iowa opened Sunday as 14.5-point favorites.
The decision to continue may be due to head coach Kirk Ferentz’s cavalier attitude toward the virus, even after testing positive himself. “We haven’t talked about COVID at all this year and don’t plan on it now,” he said Sunday afternoon from his home via a video press conference. “If I had my druthers, I wouldn’t have announced mine. But it would have become obvious at some point, I think, and it is public knowledge — or at least public information.”
At 7:15 p.m. Monday, the university confirmed that it paused team activities until at least Saturday.
“Last week, we experienced an increase in positives cases within our football program. Our student-athletes returned to testing [Monday], and based on additional positive tests and contact tracing; our medical team has made the decision to pause in-person activities for a minimum of five days,” Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said in a statement. “We will continue to follow Big Ten Conference medical protocol and participate in daily rapid antigen testing.”
The only problem the Hawkeyes face is if they do follow the Big Ten’s recently relaxed protocol. Players with positive tests must sit a mandatory 17 days because most of those positives have come down within the last week, which puts those individuals well beyond the window for a bowl appearance.
Big Ten Protocol Meets CDC’s Minimum Recommendation
According to Big Ten protocols, a program’s pause is required if the team’s seven-day rolling average of confirmed positives crosses a 5% rate, or the total program including athletes, coaches, and staff is more than 7.5%.
Ferentz, 65, said Sunday that he felt “lucky” not to have symptoms beyond an “annoying cough.”
He could be cleared to return to the Iowa football facility as early as Sunday, after a mandatory 10-day isolation period, per Big Ten protocol for coaches. All this provided he’s been symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
To reiterate, a coach who tested positive for COVID-19 and presented symptoms could return to lead a team in practice, and travel and roam the sidelines less than two weeks after he’s been infected.
According to the CDC, 10 days is about the minimum it takes for a patient to recover once symptoms begin.
“Recovery of replication-competent virus between 10 and 20 days after symptom onset has been documented in some persons with severe COVID-19 that, in some cases, was complicated by immunocompromised state,” the CDC says in its report entitled Duration of Isolation and Precautions for Adults with COVID-19. “However, in this series of patients, it was estimated that 88% and 95% of their specimens no longer yielded replication-competent virus after 10 and 15 days, respectively, following symptom onset.”
Hawkeyes Delay Trip to Nashville, Haven’t Practiced in Weeks
As Iowa reports almost 2,000 new cases daily, the Hawkeyes are still scheduled to depart for Nashville on Dec. 29. The last-minute travel plans are a reported precaution, overriding a team’s usual one-week advance arrival to prep before a bowl game.
“Late (Monday) afternoon, I met with our player leadership group, and they overwhelmingly want to play in the bowl game,” Ferentz said. “While our first priority is the health and safety of our players and staff, our goal is to play and compete on Dec. 30.”
Statement from Coach Ferentz ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/bJVlzAJGk3
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) December 22, 2020
The Hawkeyes haven’t practiced since mid-December when their season final against Michigan was canceled due to the Wolverines’ COVID-19 issues.