The Gophers football team’s COVID-19 spread is far from controlled.
The athletic department announced Saturday an additional 15 positive cases — eight players and seven staff — during the current pause to team activities. That brings the total cases to 40, 20 of them players and 20 staff members.
A team spokesman confirmed the Gophers still intend to play Northwestern on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. But sources close to the team doubt the feasibility of that, especially since prior outbreaks at Wisconsin and Maryland required two weeks to contain. And those two programs peaked at 30 cases.
The Big Ten’s total team outbreaks doubled last week with the Gophers and now Ohio State. The Buckeyes canceled their game against Illinois after an unspecified number of positive cases, including coach Ryan Day testing positive. No. 4 Ohio State (4-0) has more to lose than the 2-3 Gophers. The Buckeyes have already had two games ruled as no-contests — one from Maryland’s outbreak — and would likely need to finish their schedule in order to still qualify for the Big Ten championship and possibly the College Football Playoff.
So far this season, the pandemic has canceled or postponed more than 100 games across college football. Beyond Northwestern, the Gophers have a Dec. 12 game at Nebraska before a to-be-determined ninth game Dec. 19, planned as a matchup with an East Division team based on the standings.
The Gophers were missing 22 players in the Nov. 20 Purdue game, with about half for COVID-19 positive tests, albeit some from weeks ago with players still serving their 21-day sit-out per Big Ten policy. On Monday, the Gophers announced a one-day pause to practice, before extending that indefinitely Tuesday with 15 positive results — nine players and six staff members — from Nov. 19 to Monday.
Another update Wednesday added 10 more cases — confirmatory tests from Tuesday’s initial daily antigen test — from three players and seven staff members.
Big Ten teams test six days per week, with the Gophers having Thanksgiving Day off this past week. So the 20 additional cases are from tests administered Wednesday and Friday.
The Gophers’ next planned update is Tuesday. That should also coincide with the monthly release of athletic departmentwide testing results — not separated by team or athletes vs. staff — which should cover the month of November. The football and both basketball teams have halted team activities in the past month because of COVID-19.