Notre Dame football team fighting to stay healthy despite COVID-19

NOW: Notre Dame football team fighting to stay healthy despite COVID-19

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The 5th ranked Fighting Irish will return to the football field Saturday after a two-week hiatus. One due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the other a scheduled bye week. The time off gave the team time to get healthy and to establish new ground rules.

Only a few weeks into the 2020 regular season the Irish are fighting the most dangerous opponent of the year COVID-19.

In his 30 years of coaching Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly has prepared individual players to come back after injuries successfully, but never an entire team in the midst of a pandemic.

“It's so hard, given the circumstances that we're in, that we have to be on top of every little thing, regardless of the circumstances,” Coach Kelly said.

A coronavirus outbreak forced the team to cancel football activities and ultimately postpone their game against Wake Forest.

“First, do we have this under control? We didn’t feel through our testing that we had the spike under control. Two, would we be risking individuals by playing them well beyond the threshold of the amount of plays they should be playing in a game. That was part 2. when we looked at one and 2 — that’s how we made our decision,” Coach Kelly said.

At the peak of the outbreak, 39 players were either in isolation or quarantine.

According to the university, 42 football players have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began. That’s nearly half of the active roster.

Full transparency with those numbers is top of mind for the Fighting Irish.

“We have nothing, nothing to hide. We're fighting through this coronavirus like everybody else. And safety and health of our players is at the core of that,” Coach Kelly said.

During Monday’s round of testing, there were two more positive results.

The latest hurdle in tackling the spread has forced the Irish to re-assess their entire COVID-19 safety protocols.

“We've spaced out our meal even farther, we are de-densifying our locker room, really, really dig deep and hold our players into zero tolerance in regards to masks,” said Rob Hunt, the Head Athletic Trainer for Notre Dame football.

“It's so hard to win. And then when you do win, you know, the first thing out of my mouth is 'Hey, stop, celebrating, put your mask on.' If we're going to continue to play in this environment, we have to be even more vigilant than we were in the past,” Coach Kelly said.

While major opponents including Florida State await the Irish on the football field, it's the pandemic that’s providing the biggest test of all.

"We've got one foot on the brake a little bit still, but I think all of us feel a lot better than we did 10 days ago,” Hunt said.

Coach Kelly told the media this week it’s nearly impossible to find the direct cause of the coronavirus outbreak, but the Irish have moved their pre-game meals to a larger room, shifted around the Notre Dame locker room schedule, and instituted a zero-tolerance face mask policy in all football buildings, practice facilities, and on the sidelines.

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