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'Abundance of caution': Michigan football paused due to presumptive positive COVID-19 tests

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan football has paused team activities Monday while awaiting word on presumptive positive COVID-19 tests.

The duration of the pause is unclear.

Jim Harbaugh

“Today, out of an abundance of caution, Michigan football is going to hold everything virtually,” Harbaugh said on a Zoom conference with reporters on Monday. “We had an increased number of presumptive positives that are awaiting confirmation.

“Like everything, it just goes along with the culture that's been set here since June. This is day-to-day. When results come back, we'll monitor those results and as always continue to be very proactive.”

This is the first time Michigan has paused football activities this season.

Harbaugh was asked, if the positive tests were confirmed, would that put Michigan over the Big Ten rate to force a seven-day shutdown of the football program.

“We’re gonna follow all protocols, and we’re waiting the results of the confirmatory tests,” Harbaugh said.

More: Former quarterback Brian Griese, after Michigan's latest defeat: 'Enough is enough!'

Harbaugh said it was unlikely that players going home for Thanksgiving contributed to the increase in positive test results.

“There wasn’t a lot of travel,” he said. “There wasn’t any air flights or things of that nature.”

Harbaugh said it was a joint decision not to have any in-person contact within the football program on Monday: "Medical professionals, our athletic department staff and our trainers and our doctors — we all felt like it was a good idea to virtually have our meetings today.”

Michigan is 2-4 following a 27-17 loss to previously winless Penn State on Saturday. The Wolverines are scheduled to return to action this Saturday at home against Maryland at 3:30 p.m. and then play at Ohio State on Dec. 12 before the final game of the season, a divisional crossover meeting Dec. 19.

Harbaugh said there was at least one presumptive positive case within program before Saturday.

"It’s a very proactive culture that’s been set here,” Harbaugh said. “It is, literally, day to day. The protocols in place (are) all followed, and then some. Just felt like it was out of that kind of caution to do things virtually today.

"The health and safety is first and foremost. We're going to continue to lean on the medical professionals."

Subscription: Five Michigan takeaways: Is there a 'broken culture' in UM program?

Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner, last week while discussing the challenges of coaching his position group that lost four starters after last season to the NFL and then two starting tackles this season to injuries, mentioned the added layer of COVID-19 issues. Warinner was the first Michigan coach this year to mention the challenges of practicing when players must miss because of contact tracing.

"It’s been challenging," Warinner said last week. "Injuries has been the biggest one everybody knows about, but we’ve had a lot of guys miss a lot of time because of contact tracing because of this or that, you get the sniffles you miss two days because they’re checking to see and double checking to see, which is the right thing to do whether or not you have COVID, so you’re out a practice. And then all of a sudden you miss the two work days of practice and you’re back in and are you really ready to go when you miss the two bulk days of practice, who knows? We’ve had all kinds of things going on that have interrupted continuity in training.”

Harbaugh was among the participants during a Michigan parent-run #WeWanttoPlay protest that began outside Michigan Stadium on Sept. 5, the day the Wolverines were expected to open the Big Ten's original modified 10-game season. He joined several of his players during the protest and said he wanted a season and mentioned how his team had not paused since beginning voluntary workouts June 15.

The Big Ten reinstated the season in September and play began Oct. 24. The nine-game season is set to conclude Dec. 19 with a crossover bonus game. This hasn't been easy as Warinner suggested last week. There have been seven canceled games with the Minnesota-Northwestern game this weekend canceled. Michigan, Penn State, Rutgers, Indiana, Iowa and Northwestern are the only teams that have played six games this season.

Now that Michigan has paused on Monday and in light of the demanding COVID-19 protocols and daily testing, Harbaugh was asked if this season has really been worth the effort.

"I believe it has been worth it," Harbaugh said. "There are challenges in football, there are challenges in life. Responding and rising up to that challenge is something I believe in very strongly. That’s how I feel about it."

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis