On Friday afternoon, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announced two “clusters” of COVID-19 (five or more cases in close proximity) on campus at Ehringhaus Community and Granville Towers. A third cluster was announced on Saturday, 25 hours after the first notification, at the Sigma Nu fraternity house (one house away from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, where Tyler Hansbrough jumped off the roof into an above-ground pool). Students had only begun moving back to on-campus housing last week.
This uptick in cases after bringing in additional students to campus echoes what happened when athletes and staff returned to Chapel Hill in July, resulting in 37 positive cases out of 429 tests. While no athletes have been named in these new clusters, (UNC will not release names of positive cases due to privacy concerns) this cannot be seen as good news, as regular students begin interacting with student-athletes. Take a look at some of the precautions that the University is taking as they begin in-person classes:
While traditions took on new looks this week, there was still a lot of excitement and Carolina spirit on display. See what the first days of fall semester looked like at #UNC pic.twitter.com/VfmhZGfKyV— UNC-Chapel Hill (@UNC) August 14, 2020
Despite the social distancing, mask wearing, and disinfecting that occurs in the classroom and in the practice facilities, fields, and meeting rooms of the sports programs, UNC will not be able to control what students do when they are not in the classroom, library, or dining halls. If clusters continue to form and more students get sick, it’s only a matter of time before another athlete pops positive. Prepare to facepalm after watching this video:
The risk of COVID-19 on college campuses across America is cause for some coaches to take drastic measures. Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson and Penn State coach James Franklin are spending the season away from their families, as they have loved ones who are at a higher risk for complications due to COVID-19. It is commendable that these coaches are willing to suffer alone to keep their families safe, but they are relatively young (53 and 48 respectively.) What happens if Mack Brown or Roy Williams (68 and 70... 70???!!) get sick? I think I’m gonna go light a candle, real quick.
The Tar Heel football team implemented a myriad of measures to decrease risk of infection, from temporarily closing their weight room, introducing masks and plastic face shields on their helmets, to enforcing social distancing on sidelines during practice.
The most important thing that Mack Brown did, however, was let his players know that if they did not feel safe for any reason, they could opt out of the season without any penalty, and without losing their scholarships.
“It’s not only important to tell your players that they don’t have to play if they don’t feel comfortable. It’s important that they believe you. There’s a lot of macho and young people, young men in college football. This (COVID-19) is real stuff. If you are uncomfortable at all or anxious, if you want to miss workouts, if you don’t want to play, let’s do it.”
So far, three Carolina football players have opted out. Let’s hope that UNC, Orange County Public Health, and most importantly, the students and student-athletes in Chapel Hill can work together to stay safe and not suffer any spikes in positive cases. Our hopes for college football, and for that matter ANY college sports this year, are all riding on them.