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How Does Recent COVID-19 Outbreak Among LSU Football Players Affect Program Moving Forward?

Isolated players currently in the midst of a near two-week quarantine to limit spread
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LSU has been preparing for months for the inevitability of positive coronavirus tests among its players and staff members. On Saturday afternoon, the first numbers were reported by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger and the results were jarring.

Dellenger reported that at least 30 of LSU’s players are currently in isolation after either testing positive or having contact with those who did test positive for the virus. It also comes on the heels of Clemson reporting over 20 positive tests within its program on Friday.

The good news on the LSU front is that none of the players have required hospitalization and few have experienced more than “mild symptoms.”

“It’s not surprising we’re seeing the rise right now,” senior associate athletic trainer Shelly Mullenix told SI. “It’s a pandemic. We should not be shocked. The story is that it’s exactly what we said it would be. We were prepared from the get-go for a lot of virus. The good news is we’re seeing subtle virus illness.”

So what will happen with the players who are currently in isolation? They’ll spend the next 10 days in quarantine and must be symptom free for an additional three days before returning to team activities. Mullenix did reveal to Dellenger that none of the cases have been traced back to the voluntary workouts that have been going on for the last two weeks.

Instead, through “contact tracing,” Mullenix and the training staff have confirmed that all of the cases have occurred through the community, by way of bars and restaurants. After a recent outbreak at “Tigerland,” a string of popular bars just down the road from Tiger Stadium, a few LSU players were quarantined out of an abundance of caution after visiting the bars according to Dellenger’s report.

“People are human. When you’re told you can go back out, you’ve been locked up for so long, there’s really not a middle ground,” Mullenix told SI. “Right thing to do is put on your mask, go to those places and pick up your order. We’re so desperate to socialize because we’re humans. It’s hard to pull back from that.”

But with 30 players currently spending the better part of two weeks cooped up in their rooms, how will this affect the football team moving forward?

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It will delay those players getting in shape for one. Strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt has said multiple times how he'd need a month to comfortably get everybody in shape for practice, which are set to start on July 24 with walkthroughs.

“My biggest concern is player safety,” Moffitt said on LSU radio show, “LSU Sixty” back in April. “It’s my responsibility to make sure they’re in shape before we start any form of training camp. For me to do my job, I feel I would need at least a month to prepare."

For argument’s sake, let’s say the players started the isolation on June 20, when Dellenger first reported the news. That would mean that players couldn’t return for workouts, at the earliest, until July 3, giving Moffitt and the training staff three weeks to get those athletes in shape.

Those players would obviously be on separate timelines from the ones that currently have the ability to work out in the weight rooms. Dellenger also reported that a number of the quarantined players have set up outdoor workouts amongst each other on their own volition.

The fact that these cases have cropped up when campus is bare in terms of students on campus and walking to class is concerning. What happens when 30,000 students are walking around intermingled with the athletes?

It’s a question that doesn’t have an answer at this time but could further threaten a college football season. LSU is taking all of the requisite steps to keep its players safe around the facilities. 

The measures that are being taken by the LSU training staff have been well reported. They include daily temperature checks, players and coaches entering the facility through different doors and questionnaires before entering the weight room. Between each weight lifting session, thorough cleaning of the racks is done by Moffitt and the training staff.

At the end of the day, contracting the virus is out of the player’s control but limiting their interaction with others and simply wearing a mask out in public, whether it’s at a store or picking up food from a restaurant, will go a long way. Will this be the wake up call the players need?

Steering clear of crowded bars is certainly preventable and after the outbreak at “Tigerland,” those bars will be shut down for the immediate future.

Each passing day is unprecedented territory for not only LSU but college programs across the country. How the Tigers administration and medical staff handle this first wave of reported cases will tell us a lot about what the future could look like.