Miami believes COVID-19 outbreak stems from outside team

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In this file photo, Miami Hurricanes football coach Manny Diaz watches his team battle the UAB Blazers during the first half on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. - Michael Laughlin/Sun Sentinel/TNS

Miami Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz, in his first public comments since the COVID-19 outbreak that has caused UM to go on a two-week football hiatus, indicated that the team believes the spread was due to external sources instead of originating from within the team.

Team doctors apparently found no common links in contact tracing as positive cases on the team have increased over the past month.

“We have studied every data point that we have, in terms of how this virus spreads inside of our program, and our medical people — not me or not our athletic people — but our medical people, they have found no connection, which just shows that it’s community spread. It’s coming in through the outside,” Diaz said on Miami’s Hurricane Hotline radio program on 560-AM on Tuesday night.

“It is a warning that it is not a Miami problem or a college football problem. This is a problem that we still, obviously, all these months later of all the things that we’ve done, we’ve still not appropriately dealt with.”

Hurricanes athletic director Blake James backed up Diaz in Wednesday afternoon comments to reporters over web conference. He did, however, leave open the possibility of player-to-player transmission but felt it would have come outside of team facilities.

“I don’t think it’s come from football activity,” James said. “I do think it’s come from outside. I’m guessing there’s been some transmission among the players, from one to another, but I don’t think it’s a football-related situation where the contraction occurred.”

According to UM’s COVID-19 dashboard on Wednesday, the university has 318 active coronavirus cases on campus — 256 students, 62 employees. The campus’ seven-day rolling average of new daily cases has surpassed 30 and approached 40 over the past week after never going over 20 previously in the semester. The university also reports no hospitalizations among its 1,164 cumulative cases over the course of the fall semester.

“We’re reflective of society, and we’re reflective of campus,” James said. “When you see where the numbers are at on campus, I’m not completely surprised that we’re feeling some of those.”

The Hurricanes, who had 13 total players unavailable in last Saturday’s win at Virginia Tech, were hit hardest by the coronavirus at two position groups — the offensive and defensive line. If any of Miami’s five offensive linemen would’ve been injured Saturday, the team was prepared to turn to senior Navaughn Donaldson to make his season debut after rehabbing from knee surgery. The Hurricanes also only had three defensive ends and defensive tackles to rotate at the two spots for each position, with edge rushers Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche barely leaving the field.

“We knew we were on the brink this past week,” Diaz said. “We just fell below the threshold of available players for us to be able to play safely. We’ll be off the next couple of weeks, but that will give our guys the chance to get healthy, to get well. We’ve got to continue to battle the virus, to double-down on our protections because it’s obvious it’s spread in our community is as high as it’s been at any point this year.”

Miami went from having eight players unavailable against Virginia on Oct. 24 — whether due to the virus or otherwise — to 11 players out at North Carolina State on Nov. 6 and finally the 13 at Virginia Tech on Saturday. Adding an unknown number of positive tests on Monday, UM announced the two-week stoppage that evening.

“I think we’re all feeling some COVID fatigue,” James said. “Eight months in, it’s hard for all of us, and so I’m sure young people are feeling some of that and maybe gotten a little more laxed than what they were back in March, April, May, June, July. When the times here were so tight, we really saw our numbers stay down low.”

Diaz has communicated with his players over web conferences this week. His message?

“We’ve got a chance to get well. We’ve got to be even more diligent against the virus, but we’ve got a two-game season,” Diaz said. “If we win those two games (at Wake Forest on Dec. 5, vs. North Carolina on Dec. 12), we’re going to look at our record, at 8-1 in the ACC, to get into the ACC Championship Game. If for whatever reason, 8-1 doesn’t get us in, then we got one more game to play (vs. Georgia Tech on Dec. 19). Odds are, if we win that game, that we’re looking at a New Year’s Day bowl game. Big-time goals for our program, a chance to finish the year 10-1. … A lot to play for, and worth keeping this team healthy and strong and together.

“This team has something special about it. I just want to see them together again for this final stretch run. … If I can judge by what they’ve done this entire year, I think they’ll respond well. I think we’ve got great leadership. I think we’ve got some guys that want to accomplish some big-time goals here at the school.”

The Hurricanes are scheduled to return to game action on Dec. 5 at Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons are also dealing with coronavirus concerns, canceling this Saturday’s game against Duke.

James said on Wednesday that, in the event UM can return to play but an opponent cannot, a situation where Miami finds another in-conference opponent, like the Pac-12 has done, is “on the table” but unlikely.

“Everything’s on the table,” said James, adding it could only occur on the first two of the three remaining weekends. “I think it would be real challenging right now because the benefit we have is we’re eight games in. … There’s not a lot of teams left in the league that we haven’t played. We’ve played over half the teams in the league. It would take really being able to get the stars to align to figure out how you could look at putting something together.”


©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)