The University of Utah is open for business for the fall semester, so now comes the hard part for the athletic department.
The five-day staggered move-in process for students began Tuesday. By Sunday, roughly 3,600 total students were expected to be living on campus.
As classes, not to mention some semblance of campus life begin on Monday, regular students will now be living and mingling among the athletic department’s 500-plus student athletes, many of whom came back as early as mid-June to begin volunteer workouts.
The Salt Lake City campus will begin the fall semester at an “orange” or moderate risk level.
“I am very glad there is still a mandate in SLC and people are continuing to wear masks,” Utes junior wide receiver Britain Covey, a Provo native, told The Salt Lake Tribune Friday afternoon. “I’m sure there will be precautions followed, but some will be broken because college kids sometimes want to be college kids and go to parties.
“I’m sure there will be a few outbreaks, but I think overall, people are doing pretty well and the numbers continue to do well.”
Late Friday, the University of Utah confirmed “a handful” of the students who moved into the dorms had tested positive for the coronavirus. A school spokesman declined to say how many positive tests there were, but The Salt Lake County Health Department later confirmed three active cases in Utah campus housing, plus an additional two inside campus housing at nearby Westminster College, located in the Sugar House section of Salt Lake City.
Utah plans to release a final positive count on Monday, once the move-in process is finished.
Utah’s communications arm confirming positive cases is in contrast to the athletic department, which has opted not to make positive tests of student athletes public. Utes athletic director Mark Harlan has continually defended that decision, pointing out that he and his staff are going through the necessary steps when a positive test happens. Namely, a positive test is reported to the Department of Health. Harlan is under no legal obligation to make a student-athlete positive test known to the general public.
In an Aug. 10 interview on ESPN700, Dr. David Petron, the team doctor for the Utes as well as the Jazz, said 12 student-athletes tested positive before returning to campus. Of the 540 tests conducted once student-athletes arrived on campus, three of them yielded positive results.
Petron went on to say that of the 180 tests conducted inside the football program the previous weekend, there were zero positives. That is a clear indication that Utah’s comprehensive reintroduction program for student-athletes has been working over the course of the last two months.
“Credit to the staff and our AD, I think they’ve done a great job and the team feels very positive about what is going on,” Covey said. “There has been a lot of transparency with our program and what they’re trying to do. Harlan has been great because he’s an advocate and wants to listen, but he’s also been transparent about what’s happening above him at the upper levels. It doesn’t make anything less frustrating, though. This is a frustrating time for everybody.”
Covey believes that being at the Eccles Football Center and at practice are the safest places to be, which is good because the Utes are readying to restart practice on Monday.
In lieu of the Pac-12 postponing all fall sports until at least Jan. 1, the NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday approved a Football Oversight Committee recommendation to allow teams impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic 12 hours per week of football activity. Twelve hours per week is viewed as a middle ground between the 20 hours per week allowed in season and the eight hours per week allowed out of season during the academic year.
Per Covey, Utah will begin by practicing three times per week to eat up the 12 hours. The 12-hour mandate will run through Oct. 4, at which point the NCAA is expected to reevaluate.
“This can be a way for the older guys to teach the culture,” said Covey, whose college career dates back to the 2015 season. “A lot of these guys have a lot of raw talent, so it’s up to us to show these guys the way and how things are supposed to be done.”