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Michigan reports two student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan has performed 221 COVID-19 tests on student-athletes, and two athletes, both asymptomatic, were positive for the virus. None of Michigan’s athletic staff have tested positive, according to Dr. Sami Rifat, Michigan’s head team physician.

Football players and men’s and women’s basketball players have been returning to Ann Arbor this week and are undergoing testing before the start of voluntary conditioning programs. Michigan shuttered on-campus activity in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Michigan State, 124 student-athletes were tested Monday and one tested positive, according to a release Thursday from MSU. That student-athlete will be isolated for 10-14 days and daily check-ins will be conducted. Those who tested negative at MSU will undergo a second round of testing on June 22 — a second negative result is required before being cleared for voluntary workouts. No staff members have tested positive. One student-athlete tested positive at home last week and has not yet reported to campus.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, Darryl Conway, senior associate athletic director and chief health and welfare officer, and Rifat took questions from reporters during a conference call Thursday.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel

Manuel, who said decisions about the upcoming football season could come later this month or in early July, said student-athletes will not be required to sign a legal waiver or “pledge” as schools like Ohio State and Indiana have done with regard to the coronavirus. There are strict policies, however, such as wearing face masks, and those who don’t follow the policies could be kicked off their teams.

“There’s no plans for us to have our student-athletes sign a waiver,” Manuel said. “We do have a policy statement that we are presenting to our student-athletes, which basically covers the education they received and their families received — I will give credit to (football) coach (Jim) Harbaugh for being the first to initiate a serious conversation with the parents and our student-athletes — (that) Dr. Rifat and Darryl have presented to the student-athletes and their parents. They will do that and schedule meetings with every sport as we continue to move through bringing our student-athletes back.

“We want them to understand the policies and procedures, the importance of wearing face masks, the importance of following the protocols we designed for them and the staff and the coaches to remain safe. But we have a policy that if student-athletes are not wearing their masks, if they continually disregard the policies, we will treat it like if somebody else breaks a team rule. We will talk to them, we will try to educate them, but continued disregard to the policies, procedures and protocols that are in place could lead up to removal from the team because the safety of everyone is important. We won’t have them sign a pledge or a waiver, if you will, but we do want to make sure they acknowledge the policy. But that won’t be through a signature or a waiver. It will be through a check the box, ‘I’ve read it’ just like we do with a lot of our policies and procedures we go through with compliance on a yearly basis."

Michigan will not publicly share individual test results because of privacy laws.

Conway said the process for student-athletes return to campus begins 14 days before their arrival.

“We send out a text message every morning that has a series of questions for them related to where they’ve traveled to, what symptoms they’re having. There is a mental health and anxiety question along with a sleep and appetite question in there that they answer,” Conway said. “It’s reviewed by athletic trainers on a daily basis. The athletic trainers are able to intervene if they complain of any symptoms or having any mental health anxiety or diet problems. But that happens for 14 days and the student-athletes are required to fill that out 14 days before what we’re calling Day Zero of the resocialization process.

“On Day Zero, they report to university health services at which time they will get two COVID tests — one being a viral PCR test that actually tests for presence of the virus and the second test is a serology or antibody test that tests for the presence of antibodies in their body. From there, Day 2 and Day 3 is what we’re calling the shelter-in-place period, where they will shelter in place in Ann Arbor.”

During that time, they will have virtual education sessions and they will have a virtual health meeting with the athletic trainer and go over their history. Conway said Day 4 is their COVID-specific pre-participation physical exam, and then they’ll see the team physician for clearance. That’s also when they’ll have concussion-baseline testing and body-composition analysis. The next two days are sport-specific fitness testing, strength testing and movement analysis, and Day 7 is when they actually start with their strength and conditioning program that’s been designed by their strength coach.

“We do not go from zero to 100 on Day 1,” Conway said. “We have a common sense ramp-up to getting back to 100% participation.”

A surveillance testing program will be in place for weekly testing throughout the season or as long, Rifat said, is necessary.

“The essence of the testing is really two parts to it,” Rifat said. “One is a random sampling of the student-athlete population to see what the prevalence of COVID is among asymptomatic individuals within our community. And the other is a more targeted approach. We would identify sports that operate in closer proximity to one another as a higher risk sport and target those individuals throughout the year to monitor to see if there are any spikes in the occurrence of COVID.”

Manuel said he has no intention to isolate the student-athletes "and put them in a hotel" like some professional leagues.

"They’re not professionals, and we won’t get into a situation where we are placing them into a hotel continuously to isolate from their fellow students and whomever else," Manuel said. "That’s just not in our plans. That’s not something we’re looking to do. So if that is the only way that we have to proceed then we will have to make other decisions. Obviously, time will tell. We waited this long. As we move forward, we’re trying to slow our decision-making while increasingly looking at every piece of information and talking through all of the details."

Staff members who come into close contact with student-athletes will be tested and screened in a similar fashion to the student-athletes.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis