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Florida Gators: No positive COVID-19 tests for football players yet. Here’s how they’re trying to keep it that way.

Two athletes previously tested positive, but none have done so during UF’s return-to-play process.
Gator fans watch a 2018 game against Charleston Southern at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.
Gator fans watch a 2018 game against Charleston Southern at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. [ MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 9, 2020
Updated Jun. 9, 2020

UCF announced Tuesday that three of its football players have tested positive for COVID-19 during their return to voluntary workouts. At least one Florida State player has, too, though the Seminoles aren’t saying how many because of health privacy laws.

The Gators, then, are fortunate that all of the 80 tests processed so far have come back negative. But two Florida players in other sports previously tested positive — one on campus in April, and another who lives outside of Gainesville and has not yet returned.

And sometime in the coming months, Florida officials expect to have to confront a case of the novel coronavirus on one or more of their teams.

“We’re going to have positive cases to deal with,” said Stacey Higgins, an associate athletic director for sports health. “... We are going to have to live with COVID, to be sure.”

Higgins and her colleague, Dave Werner, detailed some of the steps UF is taking to try to limit the virus’ impact and keep players as safe as possible.

Instead of changing at the facility, players must arrive dressed for workouts and wash their hands at the entrance. They’re given an individual towel and water bottle to use, then answer a few COVID-related questions and have their temperature taken. Finally, after all that, they can begin their strength and conditioning work.

Related: The 2020 college football season probably won’t be fair. That’s better than no season at all.

The workouts themselves are socially distanced, with 20-25 players lifting together instead of the usual 35-40, and in front of coaches and trainers who all must wear masks. Afterward, players turn in their towel and bottle, wash their hands and exit through a different door to avoid extra contact with others.

The biggest change, Werner said, is where those workouts take place. The Gators moved their weightlifting equipment into the indoor practice facility with open garage doors to increase airflow.

The Florida Gators work out at their Indoor Practice Facility in July 2019.
The Florida Gators work out at their Indoor Practice Facility in July 2019. [ Matt Baker | Times ]

“The risk really decreases with that,” said Werner, UF’s associate athletic director for sports health.

The Gators are trying to reduce the risk in other ways, too —especially educating players and their families about how the virus spreads and how to stop it. Even so, Werner acknowledged, some athletes might not feel ready to return to campus yet.

“If an athlete or an athlete’s parent does not feel comfortable with their son or daughter coming back this summer because of anxieties of the virus or worry about the virus, they’re not coming back,” Werner said.

Although UF has started its multi-phase return to play, some of the future steps aren’t yet decided. Higgins said they’ve discussed what testing might look like when formal practices begin (possibly next month) or when the season starts, but they haven’t finalized anything.

Related: We’re starting to get answers about college football in the COVID-19 era

If Higgins is right and UF does have a positive case (or cases) eventually, the Gators still have to figure out how many positive tests would be necessary to take drastic steps to avoid a major outbreak, and what those drastic steps might be.

“We’re all trying to figure this out,” Werner said. “... The fluidity of the situation is real.”

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