Since the University of Miami football team returned to campus in mid-June, the Hurricanes have done well in keeping COVID-19 from spreading extensively among the team.

While UM canceled one July workout because three football players reportedly tested positive for the novel coronavirus, university president Dr. Julio Frenk said last week that no Miami student-athlete was positive in the two most-recent rounds of testing.

Much of this success occurred before the UM student body returned to campus in earnest. With students moving back into on-campus housing over the past week-plus and classes for the fall semester beginning on Monday, will this now pose a threat to the work the Hurricanes have done in minimizing the spread of the virus?

Miami coach Manny Diaz has emphasized to his players that they must now be even more strict with social distancing guidelines and mask-wearing.

“They’re certainly aware of the narrative of what will happen once the students get back on campus, but again, they’ve been making these decisions now since the middle of June,” Diaz said last week. “They’ve been doing a good job. Is it going to get more complicated? We preach that every day, but they’re aware. They’ve got to keep their bubble small. They understand the value of what a mask does and who that protects, and if you’re around people that don’t have a mask on, you’ve got to find another place to be.”

Diaz also noted that players’ social circles won’t deviate as much as some may think with the semester beginning.

“The notion that our players have been sitting around in the city of Miami in their dorm room or in their apartment room with no other people in the 18-to-22-year-old age bracket in this city is a little bit far-fetched,” he said. “Of course, there’s going to be more students around in the area, but they’re aware of that.”

Elsewhere in the Atlantic Coast Conference, North Carolina had an outbreak a week into starting classes. UNC on Monday announced it will now revert all undergraduate classes back to a remote setting.

UM classes in the fall semester will be operating under hybrid scheduling where students, who also had the option to enroll in an entirely virtual semester, alternate whether they’re in class or online on a given day. This allows students to spread out and remain socially distant within classrooms.

Miami’s Coral Gables campus also has the benefit this semester of opening new on-campus housing while delaying the demolition of old dorm buildings. The surplus of rooms available is keeping buildings well below capacity. Frenk, who was dean of Harvard’s school of public health and Mexico’s Minister of Health before arriving at UM, has also previously laid out a number of other measures being taken on campus to limit the spread of COVID.

On Monday afternoon, Frenk took a firm stance on the enforcement of campus regulations in a nine-minute video released by the University of Miami’s Twitter account.

“Any student hosting or participating any gathering in violation with the measures we have put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Frenk said, “will face disciplinary charges by the Dean of Students Office. If found responsible, these students will be removed from campus and suspended.”

Miami has kept the virus under wraps at practice, but what about when they start facing other teams? The ACC, is one of three remaining Power 5 conferences still trying for a fall football season, along with the Southeastern Conference and Big 12.

The ACC’s minimum requirement for testing is once a week within 72 hours of kickoff, but a valid concern would come into play of whether players can get cleared on a Wednesday night before a Saturday game, catch the virus on either Thursday or Friday and end up spreading it on game day.

Diaz has said the Hurricanes will be “in line” with the ACC’s requirements, but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop there or that the ACC doesn’t later heighten its minimum guidelines.

“We are always exploring our protocols,” Diaz said. “The ACC standards are certainly minimum standards. We’ll always match those. Talking with our medical experts on campus, there may be more testing. All those decisions will be made.

“Even the ACC document is a fluid document because the guidance from the CDC, what it was in July, is not the same as August and what it might be in September. If you look at the numbers in the positivity rate and the number of total cases, even just here in Dade County from where we were five weeks ago to where we are now, is a pretty dramatic turn. If we can continue the same thing five weeks from now, now you’re getting into the season.”

Related: Here are the medical and testing standards UM, ACC must follow this season »

The Hurricanes, in an internal team study, found that one player rarely even approaches the CDC definition of close contact — within six feet of another person for 15 minutes — with any other player during practices. The team reviewed tape from practices before social distancing consciousness and started stopwatches for any combination of players that were within six feet, and the individual player highs usually amounted to around four minutes. While eliminating some drills, they largely practice the same way but are more watchful of close contact when players are stretching or resting and hydrating during breaks.

But that’s practice. What happens in a game where, say, an offensive tackle is blocking the same defensive end the whole time or a cornerback is matched up against the same receiver?

“We have not done, to my knowledge, any in-game studies,” said defensive coordinator Blake Baker, “but my guess is it’s probably very similar. When you look at total reps from a practice, it’s usually the same guys are matched up against the same guys just like in a game for the entire practice. A practice could vary from 60 to 80 reps when you count one-on-ones and so forth and so on.”

The Hurricanes got a taste of game-like play on Sunday night with their first fall camp scrimmage. They have Monday off, as coaches review film of the scrimmage, before returning to practice on Tuesday.


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