On Monday afternoon, less than an hour after the Michigan football program confirmed that it had shut down in-person activities due to “presumptive positive” COVID-19 cases, Jim Harbaugh addressed the media.
“Today out of an abundance of caution, Michigan football is gonna hold everything virtually, due to we had an increased number of presumptive positives that are awaiting confirmation,” Harbaugh said.
According to an email from an athletic department spokesman on Nov. 27, there were eight positive tests results in the entire athletic department — seven from athletes, one from a staff member. The athletic department releases weekly COVID-19 testing results every Friday.
Harbaugh added Monday that the football program had presumptive positive cases before Saturday’s game — a 27-17 loss to Penn State, though he didn’t say when those cases occurred or how many there were. The tests are only considered “presumptive positives” until the program receives confirmation, which will come in the form of PCR tests, as previously reported by The Daily.
Harbaugh did not say how many positive tests the team has received, only saying that it was an “increased number.”
“That’s an increased number from zero,” Harbaugh added. “It was more than one. It was a few. So it was increased.”
When asked whether the current number of positive tests would be enough to force cancelations should they be confirmed, Harbaugh demurred. “We’re gonna follow all protocols,” he said. “We’re awaiting the results of confirmatory tests.”
Michigan is scheduled to play Maryland on Saturday in Ann Arbor.
He went on to say that Monday’s decision to shut down in-person activity came at the advice of medical experts.
“Medical professionals, our athletic department staff and our trainers and our doctors and we all thought that was a good idea to virtually have our meetings today,” Harbaugh said. “We had scheduled meetings and we decided to do those virtually today.”
But while Harbaugh stressed the importance of adhering to advice from medical experts, the lack of mask-wearing exhibited by Michigan’s staff provides evidence to the contrary. Throughout the season, television cameras have shown coaches with masks around their chins, especially when yelling — an activity that increases the spread of droplets that can carry COVID-19.
In an attempt to increase the effectiveness of his own mask wearing, Harbaugh has begun wearing two masks during games — one under his headset microphone and one over it. During Saturday’s loss, though, he was repeatedly shown removing both masks to talk to officials.
“Everybody’s tested daily,” Harbaugh said when asked about the inconsistent mask wearing. “We’ve been tested four times since Friday and every day before that. 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.”
CDC guidelines, however, state that negative test results do not mean that a person is not contagious for COVID-19, due to the virus’ incubation period.
While Michigan waits for confirmation of its positive tests, Harbaugh’s task is to maintain team morale — a daunting task as the Wolverines return to virtual practices for the first time since June on the heels of a demoralizing loss.
“I think their focus has been really good,” Harbaugh said. “It’s hard to put in — put everything into a game each week and you’re emotionally invested, you’re physically invested, playing your heart out and to not get the rewards of winning, that’s tough. That’s hard. But that’s — football is challenging, life is challenging and you respond to that challenge. I think our guys are doing it.”
Despite the Wolverines’ 2-4 start, he reiterated his confidence in the program’s “process.”
Throughout the offseason, Harbaugh and his players lobbied for the Big Ten season to be reinstated. On Sept. 5, he joined players in protesting at Michigan Stadium against the Big Ten’s initial decision to cancel the season.
And while the conference re-instated the season on Sept. 16, seven games have been canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks as of Monday afternoon.
“I believe it has been worth it (to play the season),” Harbaugh said. “And there are challenges to — there’s challenges in football there’s challenges in life. The responding and rising up to that challenge is something that I believe in very strongly. So that would be — that’s how I feel about it.”