Paul Chryst says the University of Wisconsin football program will do everything it can to avoid another COVID-19 outbreak like the one that forced the cancellation of two games.
“Obviously, we don’t want to repeat what happened,” Chryst said Monday in a Zoom interview session after it was announced No. 13 UW (1-0) will resume play Saturday with a game at Michigan (1-2). “And I don’t know that we can be in control of everything, but you want to do all that you can.”
Thirty members of the program – 17 players and 13 staff – have tested positive since Oct. 21. But UW is down to five active cases – two players and three staff members – and it said Monday that five of the previous six days yielded no positive tests.
UW researchers are analyzing the viral samples to determine whether there was one point of introduction that led to the spread or if the outbreak included multiple clusters of the virus. That could take weeks to find out because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now involved in the analysis of the outbreak.
A UW official said the program is doing periodic polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing in addition to daily rapid-response antigen tests. UW had been doing daily PCR testing, which is more accurate than the rapid tests but takes longer to get results – as it tried to control the spread of the virus last week.
Chryst took some heat for wearing his face covering improperly during UW’s 45-7 victory over Illinois on Oct. 23 at Camp Randall Stadium. He later expressed disappointment for any role he may have played in the spread of the virus to his players or staff.
Asked Monday if he thought there had been slippage inside the building in terms of following mitigation protocol, be it proper social distancing or mask usage, Chryst said UW has “got to look at everything” as it reviews what went wrong.
He said he addressed his players and staff Sunday night and stressed the importance of following protocol.
“I don’t know guys, we’re going to do some things, we certainly think it’s going to help,” Chryst said of his message. “We don’t know that this will be the answer, this is the (magic) bullet to it. That’s why we’re kind of spreading guys out in the locker room. I don’t know that anything happened in the locker room, but I don’t know that it didn’t. Meetings, we’re going to be going virtual and I don’t know if it was (spread) in the meeting room or not.”
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez spoke recently former Badgers cornerback Troy Vincent, who’s now the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, about mitigation strategies used by NFL teams. Alvarez passed along the material to Chryst, who described the information as “practical.”
Examples Chryst gave Monday included suggestions on how to safely board buses and planes and how, when two members of a traveling party are seated next to one another, they shouldn’t be drinking from their glass or bottle at the same time.
“Certainly there’s a couple things that you do pick up that you think, ‘Hadn’t thought it of quite that way,’ ” Chryst said. “So it was helpful.”
How many Badgers have contracted COVID-19?
As of Nov. 7, the Badgers football program has 30 active cases of COVID-19 — 17 student-athletes and 13 staff members — since Oct. 21.
The program only identified one of those cases, saying head coach Paul Chryst has contracted the virus. Sources told the State Journal that offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and quarterbacks Graham Mertz (above) and Chase Wolf were among those to test positive.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said during a news conference that the program had one positive test in the first few weeks of daily testing. Then one student-athlete tested positive on Wednesday, Oct. 21, followed by 29 more people within the program from Oct. 24-Nov. 7.
Why are the canceled games no contests if the Badgers aren’t at “red/red” levels?
Because UW’s decision was based on its COVID-19 testing numbers, the games are considered no contests and won’t be counted on the team’s records.
Big Ten protocols state that games are considered no contests if they’re canceled due to a program reaching what has been called “red/red” levels. Those levels are defined as a seven-day rolling average of a team’s positivity rate over 5%, and a seven-day rolling average of a team population positivity rate over 7.5%
UW officials have stated that the Badgers are at “orange/red” levels, meaning they have an average team positivity rate between 2-5% and an average team population positivity rate over 7.5%.
Per Big Ten protocols, a program must “proceed with caution and enhance COVID-19 prevention” and “consider viability of continuing with scheduled competition” if it reaches “orange/red” levels. Alvarez said UW decided to pause its team activities and cancel the games to stop the spread of the virus and “get their arms around it.”
Will they schedule make-up games?
When the Big Ten debuted its truncated schedule calling for nine games in nine weeks, the lack of open dates eliminated chances to reschedule games during the regular-season window.
Nebraska requested that the Big Ten change its ruling about allowing non-conference games in an attempt to play a game against Tennessee-Chattanooga. The conference denied the request.
The canceled game against Purdue will also not be rescheduled.
Does Illinois’ team have COVID-19 cases after playing the Badgers?
Illinois announced Saturday morning that quarterback Brandon Peters and tight end Griffin Moore tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Oct. 29. Both players will be out of game action for 21 days.
"Contact tracing also sidelined several other players for (Saturday) and next week's game against Minnesota," a release from the program read.
Illinois lost its season opener 45-7 to UW at Camp Randall Stadium.
Will the Badgers play next week?
To be determined
UW is slated to play at Michigan on Nov. 14. If that game will be played is still being decided.
The Badgers’ pause on team activities was lifted on Nov. 6 and limited on-field conditioning work resumed.
Why do the players who have contracted the virus have to sit out 21 days?
The Big Ten requires that players wait at least 14 days from their initial diagnosis to go through a cardiac screening that can clear them to start working back toward competition. The league also built in seven more days for players to build back toward competition after being cleared in the cardiac testing.
The 21-day break from game action is the longest league protocol among the Power Five conferences.
Jim Borchers, the team physician at Ohio State who was co-chair of the Big Ten’s return to competition medical subcommittee, said experts told the conference that cardiac testing and evaluation couldn’t start until two weeks after diagnosis.
However, this 21-day layoff has come under scrutiny this week.
A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found little evidence of myocarditis in COVID-positive college athletes who had mild or no symptoms. The report didn’t recommend cardiac testing to the level the Big Ten is conducting.
Alvarez (above) told Sports Illustrated that the Big Ten should “reevaluate” the protocol.
Can the Badgers still make the Big Ten championship game?
Yes, but they can’t miss any more games.
The conference changed its divisional tiebreakers for this season, and those modifications will now be necessary considering at least two teams — UW and Nebraska — won’t complete the eight-game regular-season slate.
According to a Big Ten policy put in place this season, “a team must play at least six games to be considered for participation in the championship game. However, if the average number of conference games played by all teams falls below six, then teams must play no less than two fewer conference games than the average number of conference games played by all teams to be considered.”
How are the players doing? Are they symptomatic?
UW is not releasing updates regarding individual players’ illness and has not said whether some or all have experienced symptoms of COVID-19. Michael Moll, the program's Chief Infection Officer for the Big Ten, said no players or staff members have had severe symptoms or required hospitalization.
During a Zoom call with reporters, Chryst said he felt fine physically and he completed his isolation period without symptoms.
In an effort to stop the spread of the virus, players are isolating themselves in their living spaces. UW has secured hotel rooms to separate those who live together.