Two more Notre Dame football players have tested positive for COVID-19, the program announced Wednesday.
Before the Irish took the field for Wednesday’s first practice of preseason camp, both players were isolated. One was mildly symptomatic. The other was asymptomatic. Notre Dame also quarantined seven other asymptomatic players as a result of contact tracing.
The football program’s latest round of testing Monday included 117 players and 43 staff members. Since testing began in June, four players have accounted for positive test results out of the 619 tests administered for a 0.64% positivity rate.
The two players who previously tested positive in June and July recovered and returned to team activities. Notre Dame has not disclosed the identities of the players who have tested positive.
On Wednesday morning before the test results were announced, head coach Brian Kelly and defensive end Daelin Hayes joined the TODAY show to explain why the Irish are pushing forward with football a day after the Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences called off their fall seasons.
The ACC, in which the Irish will compete this season, has yet to back off its previously announced schedule. Notre Dame’s season opener against Duke is set for Sept. 12.
TODAY anchor Craig Melvin asked Kelly and Hayes two questions each during a five-minute segment. No Notre Dame coaches or players were made available to local media on the first day of preseason camp.
Kelly said his team can safely navigate the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic with the guidance of medical staff, low rates of positives tests within the team and on campus and the commitment of his players and staff to follow the procedures in place.
“We have enhanced medical care,” Kelly said. “We’re very intentional about what we’re doing, and we believe that we can play safely and care for everybody including our staff now. This is not just about the players. I have over 50 staff members that are put into this situation as well.”
Hayes, a graduate student entering his fifth season with the Irish, made his stance clear Monday by signing an open letter with nine other offseason captains on the team that expressed their desire to play football this fall.
On the TODAY show, Hayes said the medical staff has been readily available and transparent with Notre Dame’s players. That’s why he believes the mental and physical health of the players is in a better place with a season taking place.
“We feel comfortable,” Hayes said. “We feel confident that we can play in a season working in tandem with our coaches and medical staff. Ultimately, it comes down to the players and their decisions every day. Having the incentive to play and the discipline that it requires to be on a team and make the right decisions outside of our bubble, it’s going to honestly fare well for us.”
Melvin pressed Hayes on the criticism that players wanting to play now are focused on pursuing their NFL dream and not the long-term picture.
“Unfortunately, I feel like you’re just as at risk anywhere right now,” Hayes said. “Whether it be going to the grocery store or going out to eat, unfortunately that’s just the reality of our situation. But I would rather take that risk playing the game that I love and fighting for my career once I leave Notre Dame.
“A lot of guys feel that way. A lot of people expressed that sentiment, especially players across the country in their last and/or junior years.”
Once Notre Dame increases physical contact in its practices, the breadth of contact tracing will have to expand. Kelly said his program is prepared for that.
“When you are in contact, there is no other way to look at it but everybody is in contact,” Kelly said. “We understand that we must trust each other. That’s why this is a unique situation where you are putting yourself in a position where you trust the guy next to you. That’s why testing is so important in this process.
“There has to be transparency with the other teams that you’re playing across the board. That when you line up against them, you know that they are following through with the same testing procedures.
“We said that at the outset. This is a difficult process, but it’s one that we’re committed to and one that our players are committed to. Enhanced testing has to be part of this procedure as well.”