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Notre Dame Attributes Virus Spread to Pregame Meal

Paul Steinbach

The University of Notre Dame football program will serve meals in a larger room with more social distancing after a spread of coronavirus was detected among players this week.

Head coach Brian Kelly told ESPN that team doctors determined that the outbreak — which resulted in 18 positive coronavirus tests Monday, 25 players in isolation and 14 others in quarantine — stemmed from two events surrounding Notre Dame's Sept. 19 game against South Florida. First, the team ate its pregame meal together, and then one player threw up on the sideline during the game and was treated for dehydration.

The program has changed the way it will eat its pregame meals, serving them at a convention center with large ballrooms that allow players to stay at least 6 feet apart and not have any face-to-face contact. In addition, Notre Dame will now have rapid antigen tests available on the sideline. The player who threw up during the South Florida game didn't have a concussion or any other injuries, Kelly said, so the medical staff treated him for dehydration. The player then tested positive for coronavirus on Monday.

"We have to think about giving antigen tests on the sidelines for stuff that we never thought of," Kelly said. "That's the kind of shifting sands in this whole thing, learning in-game what do you do, what don't you do. We test Friday nights, too, so you're hoping your PCR test is getting that, but it's still a 50-50 proposition if you're cooking over that time, so there's still a little bit of uncertainty."

Kelly said the change in routine from summer camp to game week revealed new challenges that could have only been discovered with the start of the season.

"Throughout our entire time together, we had not had one meal where we sat down together," Kelly said. "Everything was grab and go. We get into our game situation where we have pregame meal together, and that cost us. Big. We had somebody who was asymptomatic, and it spread like wildfire throughout our meeting area where we were eating and then it got guys in contact tracing."

Kelly said he expects almost 90 percent of the team to be able to practice by Saturday. The team, which has a bye this week, has been conducting Zoom position meetings, conditioning in smaller groups, and watching game film in preparation for an Oct. 10 game against Florida State.

Notre Dame believes there wasn't a lot of on-field transmission, if any, to South Florida.

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