How Arkansas has kept coronavirus cases low so far
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FAYETTEVILLE — Ahead of the SEC’s announcement it would still play football this fall, Arkansas received good news on the coronavirus front.
According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the UA had zero positive results Wednesday after testing the entire football team, coaching staff and other personnel - some 200 people in the program.
No official numbers have been released by the school since July 16, when athletics director Hunter Yurachek told reporters that “less than 10” athletes and two staff members had tested positive since returning to campus.
Two football players are believed to still be in quarantine, Yurachek said in a Zoom videoconference Thursday, but he has been pleased with how all of Arkansas’ athletes have followed guidelines set to ensure their safety.
“I think our student-athletes understand what is at stake for them,” Yurachek said. “I think they, more than anybody, want their fall sports season to happen and I think they’ve seen, as we’ve had some student-athletes that have tested positive, we’ve had others that have been contact tracing and been in quarantine, and they don’t want to experience that.”
It is no secret that it is a challenge keeping college kids from engaging in social activities that act as super-spreading events. Earlier this summer, LSU had an outbreak that reportedly stemmed from players visiting bars.
Just this past week, Rutgers suspended team activities and went into a two-week quarantine because of an outbreak that been linked to an on-campus party, according to NJ.com.
In an effort to prevent something like that happening at Arkansas, Yurachek said his staff has been creating social events for the athletes. There have been golf nights at Top Golf in Rogers and movie nights inside of Bud Walton Arena, plus they’ve distributed maps of local hiking and biking trails.
“We’re trying to create social opportunities for them to do some other things that they normally wouldn’t do, and they’re taking advantage of those things, and they’re doing them as fellow teammates together. It’s been really cool to see that evolve and happen over the past several weeks.
This has been an issue at the professional level, as well. MLB has seen outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals, with them reportedly tied to players visiting a strip club and casino, respectively.
Both teams have had games postponed and there is legitimate concern that the season could be in jeopardy.
“I think it’s another educational opportunity with our student-athletes and our staff as far as how…one bad decision can impact many,” Yurachek said. “So I think it’s an educational opportunity for all of us more than anything.”
Although the Razorbacks have done a good job of following protocols and avoiding similar situations thus far, it’s important to note than athletes are pretty much the only people currently on campus.
Some have speculated that once the general student population returns to campuses across the country, it will become increasingly difficult to ensure all athletes continue making wise choices. However, Yurachek is confident that won’t be the case at Arkansas.
“Our student-athletes are having to make some very difficult personal decisions that most college students don’t want to make,” Yurachek said. “I mean, we all remember our college experiences, and (they’re) some of the best four years of our lives.
“Our college students, they want to be out with fellow college students on Dickson Street enjoying what that has to offer. They’re having to make difficult decisions and difficult sacrifices to make sure that we have a football season and a soccer season and a volleyball season and men’s and women’s basketball season.”
Weekly testing for all fall sports - football, volleyball, soccer and cross country - will start soon as they begin practicing and get into competitions.
Yurachek admitted that he wasn’t sure how the virus might spread on the football team when full-contact practices start later this month, as it will be the first time they’ve ever dealt with something like this. A later start to the season should give them time to learn and adjust, though.
“I think the way we’re practicing and the way we meet and some of the things that we have changed within our football facility have worked very, very well,” Yurachek said. “I think he’ll continue to do many of those same things as we get into practice really ramping up here in the next couple of weeks.”
Arkansas was previously scheduled to open the 2020 season against Nevada on Sept. 5, but it will now play a 10-game, SEC-only slate that begins three weeks later.
In addition to giving teams more time to reassess things after practicing, it will also allow colleges to get started with their fall semesters and see how things go from that perspective.
“It also gives us an opportunity for school to start on each of our campuses and for our campuses to return back to a sense of normalcy, opposed to campus coming back and then two weeks later we’re trying to play our first football game,” Yurachek said. “As we talked to the presidents and chancellors, it was their desire to try to get campus up and running before we tried to play football games as well.”
Exactly how the SEC will handle outbreaks if and when they pop up remains to be seen. Yurachek admitted that the first hurdle was figuring out the schedule and now the conference will shift its focus to other logistical challenges of playing a season amid a pandemic.
The SEC will have until about Sept. 15 to iron out their plan, Yurachek said, but he’s more confident than he’s been in recent weeks that there will be a season in 2020.
“You guys have followed this virus as much as I have since March 11,” Yurachek said. “It changes on a regular basis, and this plan could change, but right now I feel really good about the advice and what the models are showing.”