Notre Dame game at Wake Forest postponed after seven new positive COVID-19 tests
The week off for Notre Dame football wasn’t supposed to come until next week.
That all changed Tuesday as a spike of COVID-19 cases within the football program brought a halt to all football-related activities and a postponement of Saturday’s game at Wake Forest.
The school announced that as of Tuesday 13 players are currently in isolation as a result of positive test results with another 10 in quarantine because of contact tracing. That includes players who had previously been identified as positive or in need of quarantining because of contact tracing.
Monday’s round of COVID-19 testing for 94 players revealed seven new positive tests.
The day prior, the program announced that 10 players sat out Saturday’s 52-0 win over South Florida at Notre Dame Stadium due to four positive tests results and six others placed in quarantine from contact tracing from last week's Tuesday-through-Friday window.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday reported that USF tested twice Friday, and all were negatives. That did not include seven players who had already been ruled out for the game at ND. The team was tested again on Monday with all negatives. The Bulls staff is contact tracing the game video from Saturday, with another round of tests set for Wednesday.
For the Irish, a week’s worth of testing leading up to and through the Monday following Notre Dame’s season opener against Duke on Sept. 12 also resulted in two positive tests and two quarantines through contact tracing. Those four players didn’t participate in the Duke game.
A Notre Dame release said the ACC and Wake Forest were notified of Notre Dame’s inability to play this weekend and that the process of rescheduling the game had already started.
Both teams were scheduled for open weeks next, which could lead to the two playing against each other Oct. 3, but that may be too quick a turnaround for Notre Dame as it tries to limit the virus spread and in allowing its players to recover and ramp up conditioning. ACC protocols stipulate that a player testing positive can't return before 10 days and must undergo cardiac testing while in isolation. A player identified through contact tracing must quarantine for 14 days.
The only other apparent makeup date would be Dec. 12. The ACC had originally scheduled its championship game for Dec. 12 or 19, but already the Virginia-Virginia Tech game has moved to Dec. 12 for reasons related to COVID-19.
“With student-athlete health and safety our primary focus, we will continue to follow our prevention protocols and ongoing testing procedures,” head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “We managed an increase in positivity rates in August, and the players handled it wonderfully.
“We knew COVID would present challenges throughout the season, and we'll always put student-athlete health and safety at the forefront of our decision making. We look forward to resuming team activities and getting back on the playing field.”
Notre Dame previously paused practice for three days in August when five players tested positive for COVID-19 and six others were placed in quarantine. All Notre Dame football media availability has been canceled for the rest of this week.
Earlier this month, Kelly was asked how many practices would have to be canceled to make him uncomfortable about playing on a given Saturday.
“I would say that if you're out of business Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, you're in trouble for having a team that can practice and be prepared,” Kelly said.
At the time, Kelly described that possibility as a worst-case scenario with the hope that transmission through the team could be prevented with Notre Dame’s practice protocols.
“That's assuming a lot of things go wrong," he said. "If they do, my answer to the question would be if you lose two or three days early in the week, you're hard-pressed to get your team ready."
All told, 25 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since returning to campus in mid-June with the program administering frequent testing. Notre Dame increased its testing to three times per week during the season with additional access to daily testing if necessary. Notre Dame’s roster includes 114 players.
With 23 players currently in isolation or quarantine, the number of players needed to return for the Irish to resume play will depend on how position groups have been affected. Notre Dame’s policy has been to not identify which players have tested positive or been placed in quarantine, but seven players from the depth chart were declared unavailable for last Saturday’s game with no previously reported injury issues: linebackers Marist Liufau and Shayne Simon, cornerback TaRiq Bracy, quarterback Brendon Clark, wide receiver Lawrence Keys, defensive end Ovie Oghoufo and running back Jahmir Smith.
The Irish do not identify additional players unavailable who weren’t previously listed on the depth chart as likely to play.
Notre Dame was able play against USF because those unavailable players were spread across different position groups and not heavily concentrated in one area. That may have changed with Monday’s testing results. USF announced seven players were unavailable prior to Saturday’s game as well.
The ACC has already had to reschedule two Virginia Tech conference games due to COVID-19 issues. The Sept. 12 season opener for the Hokies against NC State was moved to this coming Saturday. Last week’s scheduled Virginia-Virginia Tech game is now slated for Dec. 12.
On Monday, Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente said the team is still down players as it prepares to play N.C. State this Saturday.
Also within the conference, Duke-Virginia was moved from Nov. 14 to this Saturday and last weekend’s scheduled Charlotte-North Carolina game was canceled. Even Florida State head coach Mike Norvell recently tested positive for COVID-19.
Notre Dame’s campus positivity rate has remained low since students have gradually returned to in-person classes starting Sept. 2, following a two-week hiatus with extra restrictions put in place. The latest update of the university COVID-19 dashboard estimates 33 active cases among students and employees.
Of the 7,510 tests conducted at Notre Dame since Sept. 2, 91 have been positive (1.2%). The football program has reported 14 positive tests during that time frame.
Due to a reporter's error, a previous version of this story listed the wrong number of players on Notre Dame's football roster. The current roster includes 114 players.
The Tribune regrets the error.