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Badgers coach Paul Chryst takes heat for mask use during Illinois game
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Badgers coach Paul Chryst takes heat for mask use during Illinois game

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Sitting in his home speaking to reporters via a Zoom call, University of Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst said he didn’t have any symptoms following his COVID-19 diagnosis.

Physically, he felt fine, he said. But his emotions were high after his program’s in-person activities were shut down and his No. 9 Badgers’ game at Nebraska this Saturday was canceled due to an elevated number of COVID-19 cases within the program.

Chryst, who has spoken often since the return of Big Ten Conference football about the challenge in front of his team, said he felt disappointed in the Badgers’ outbreak. Six players and six staff members have become infected with the coronavirus in the past five days and more tests are pending.

“We were wanting the opportunity and our players were wanting the opportunity to play and then to not have that opportunity — and I know why and I support and understand why we’re not,” Chryst said. “But when you have a hand in it ... that’s where there’s a disappointment.”

Chryst said he took an antigen test Tuesday morning and tested negative, but tested positive on the PCR test the entire team took Tuesday afternoon. Sources told the State Journal quarterbacks Graham Mertz and Chase Wolf, and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph are among the 12 individuals who have been infected.

Chryst has been criticized for wearing his face covering improperly during the Badgers’ 45-7 win over Illinois last week to start the Big Ten’s truncated season. Chryst was seen multiple times on the television broadcast with his mask not covering his nose, and at other times with his mask underneath his chin. Chryst spoke with players, coaches and officials with his mask down.

CDC guidelines regarding facial covering state that it should cover the wearer’s nose and mouth to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Chryst told reporters Wednesday that his glasses were fogging up with his mask on, something that wasn’t happening during the Badgers’ daytime practices at Camp Randall Stadium. Players and coaches have been wearing masks and distancing as much as possible in meeting rooms, so one can assume Chryst has dealt with his glasses fogging before Friday’s game.

“That was something I needed to get better at and was working on that (Tuesday) on the field. I had the shield and the mask,” Chryst said.

What caused the Badgers’ outbreak is not known, and given the virus’ mutation rate and contagiousness, it’ll be difficult to trace to one source. Chryst said the Badgers’ made changes to their typical routine when they stayed in a local hotel last Thursday night.

“At the hotel we didn’t have any team meals. We had it available and there was to-gos and you kind of had some spaced-out seating for some, 10 in a room and big rooms. So you try to do all you can,” Chryst said. “Do I know that something there caused it? I don’t know ground zero or where it really started.”

The Badgers are now on a seven-day pause from in-person team activities as they try to curb the spread of the virus. The program is in the process of securing hotel rooms in order to separate players who live together.

Getting case numbers back under control is crucial for the Badgers to be able to return to the field. Chryst and other infected coaches must isolate 10 days before returning to in-person work with the team. Infected players are out of game action for 21 days from the time of their first positive test.

Chryst indicated that other staff members were asymptotic as well, and suggested players were doing OK as well.

“I can talk about myself. You’re always certainly concerned about your guys, but … you know right now I will say that … we’ve been fortunate in a lot of ways. … But I’m not supposed to be talking about players,” he said.

Chryst said each day the program tries to mitigate COVID-19 risks better. The missteps — both potential and realized — that led to the Badgers’ current situation must be addressed.

“From the moment we got back together, (we’re) talking to our players all the time about what’s happening. You can have the best of intentions and you can do all that you can and it can still happen,” Chryst said.

“It feels different when you’re one of the, I don’t want to say contributors, but I’ve got to listen to the words that I was talking to them.”


Get ready for Badgers football season with State Journal's complete 2020 preview

Get ready for Badgers football season with State Journal's complete 2020 preview

Prepare for kick off of the University of Wisconsin's 2020 football season on Friday against Illinois with the Wisconsin State Journal's annual Badgers season preview.

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