As of Monday, there have been well over 13 million COVID-19 cases and more than 265,000 deaths in the United States. In the state of Michigan alone, there have been over 350,000 cases and more than 9,000 deaths.
Regardless, a football season is being played at Michigan — for now.
The Big Ten joined the rest of college football in November, stumbling its way through the pandemic season. So far, 108 games have been cancelled or postponed.
All these protocols and facts Harbaugh praised worked out for Michigan, until the team paused all in-person activities on Monday after multiple presumptive positive tests inside the program. The results are now undergoing confirmatory PCR testing.
That’s not too surprising, though.
COVID-19 is not something to be played around with. Yet, it is treated as such every Saturday on Michigan’s sideline, and others around the country.
Coaches constantly remove their masks or face coverings to talk to referees, their coaching staffs and players. In other cases, masks will just lazily dangle below their noses.
Masks are not effective unless they cover up the mouth and nose, preventing any respiratory droplets from spreading. People release particles into the air by breathing, coughing and even talking.
And yet, coaches remove their masks when they talk, letting their germs roam free. They can put their mask back on right after but the damage has already been done.
Infections can be dramatically decreased by just covering up your face, even if it is for a few minutes. It’s all about limiting others’ exposure to the virus if someone is infected.
While it may be a charade for coaches and benched players to wear masks during games, the sentiment is still very important and it could still save people from getting sick.
There are bound to be dozens of times throughout the week when masks are improperly worn during practices and in locker rooms — a problem unto itself. But, the least they could do is just wear them properly for four hours during games.
Unfortunately, that is just too tall of a request for Michigan’s coaches.
Harbaugh is not the only perpetrator but his shortcomings are fairly noticeable. He wears two face coverings during games — one normally then another over his headset. But, throughout the game, both seem to disappear off his face at times.
By now, millions know about Harbaugh’s duck-billed mask. What does it actually accomplish? The short answer is nothing. Masks have to cover the mouth and nose to catch those droplets. It will be pretty hard to do that when a microphone is keeping it from sealing his face.
Harbaugh’s failure directly contradicts his logic of being safe.
“Wearing the mask pretty much at all times. I use a double mask during the game,” Harbaugh said.
Maybe the idea gets lost in the intensity of the game. But how can you spend months bragging about your program’s protocols when you yourself fail to comply with a simple mask mandate?
“Everybody’s tested daily. We’ve been tested four times since Friday and every day before that,” Harbaugh said. “So you’re saying during the game, that’s considered to be a clean field. Even if they’re a presumptive positive the day before the game, night before the game, they’re not allowed to play, which we’ve had, too.”
There’s a lot of backwards logic in there. Testing is effective in tracking the virus but it does just that. All a test does is tell a person if they are infected or not at that moment. They do not cure the disease or stop the spread.
COVID-19 can take days to incubate in someone’s body, so a person can be negative one day and positive a few days later. Harbaugh seems to think he is living in a utopia where a negative means the individual is immune for that day and is good to go.
You’d think that five canceled or postponed games and counting in the Big Ten alone — where all teams are tested daily — would alert him to the flaws in that logic.
Precautions are still necessary even if the entire team is tested multiple times. The best way to prevent the spread is still by wearing a mask. So what does the team still need to do on the sideline and in the locker room? Wear a mask.
Regardless of Harbaugh’s rationale, it is a problem.
And Harbaugh does not deserve to be singled out because he is not the only coach at Michigan or in college football to fail to wear a mask correctly. But, he is in the spotlight as a big-time college football coach at a major university. Millions tune in on Saturdays and he should be setting a better example for those at home.
Eight months into a pandemic that is killing and hospitalizing hundreds of thousands, millions are still failing to don masks appropriately and listen to medical professionals; wearing a mask is not something that can be messed around with.
College coaches need to be setting a better example for everybody. They have a huge responsibility to wear masks properly, whether they asked for it or not.
Harbaugh agreed to a seven-year $52 million contract with the University of Michigan to be their head coach. As a former player at Michigan, he knew what was going to be asked of him, whether it was producing a good product on the field or being the face of the university.
Harbaugh accepted the responsibility and now must confront his shortcomings.
Michigan athletics has good COVID-19 protocols and testing in place. But, as revealed Monday, that only does so much. Harbaugh had been very good about making his team wear masks. But at least on the sidelines, he and his staff obviously failed.
It’s impossible to know whether the lack of mask-wearing on the sideline Saturday contributed to cases within the program, but it certainly didn’t help.
Watching Harbaugh march up and down the sideline, failing to comply with his own rules and expectations is an embarrassment.
Harbaugh begged for a season amidst a global health crisis. Now he needs to face the music and listen to what the doctors have been saying for months.
As the season stands on the brink of cancellation, the least he could do is try.
Trachtenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @brandon_trach1.
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