Sports

Cal football program has 44 COVID cases, city of Berkeley says

After the Cal Golden Bears faced the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday down 24 players, Cal football coach Justin Wilcox, as well as prominent members of Cal’s football team, publicly panned the university’s and city’s then-difficult-to-define COVID restrictions. Was this an unnecessary contact-tracing issue being enforced by an overzealous public health department? A case of false positive tests? Something else? 

None of the above, it appears. On Tuesday evening, Berkeley’s Department of Public Health issued a blistering rebuttal to the complaints of the football program, and showed that if anything, perhaps Cal shouldn’t have taken the field at all versus Arizona.

In a statement provided to SFGATE, Berkeley’s Department of Public Health laid out previously unreported details about what is clearly a major COVID-19 outbreak in the Cal football program — including that at least 44 people in the program have tested positive for COVID over the past week or so.

“Berkeley Public Health continues to work closely with University Health Services to help contain and respond to a major COVID-19 outbreak involving the coaches, students, and staff in the Cal Football program,” the statement begins. “All of these 44 lab-confirmed cases involve people infected with highly contagious COVID-19, which spreads easily unless public health safeguards are used.”

The statement provided to SFGATE strongly insinuates that Cal football players and staff members have not been mindful of typical precautions after exposure to COVID-19.

“Cases emerged in an environment of ongoing failure to abide by public health measures. People in the program did not: Get tested when sick, stay home when sick, [or wear] masks indoors.
 
“These simple measures keep people safe,” the statement continues. “Failing to do so results not only in individual infections, sickness, and worse, but also threatens the safety of all around them – especially those with compromised immune systems.”


Cal’s football players are 99% vaccinated, the school has said, and its staffers also have a similarly high vaccination rate. During a press conference on Tuesday evening, Cal Athletic Director Jim Knowlton could not confirm how many of those players were asymptomatic, or at least unaware that they were potentially exhibiting COVID symptoms. None of the players or staffers have been reported as seriously ill, which is line with the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Berkeley Department of Public Health vehemently defended its testing policy, which has drawn the ire of Cal football players. A spokesperson pointed out that Cal-OSHA’s workplace safety rules “define any workplace environment with 20 cases as a ‘major outbreak.”’

Cal’s football program has more than doubled that standard, so “the City of Berkeley has recommended that Cal test all exposed individuals at the cadence indicated in Cal-OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards, which includes guidance for ‘major outbreaks.'”

That cadence, Berkeley Department of Public Health wrote to SFGATE, involves a minimum of twice-weekly testing “until there are fewer than three COVID-19 cases detected in the exposed group for a 14-day-period. At that point, the state guidance is for weekly testing until there are 14 days with no cases.”

Berkeley Department of Public Health also noted that its isolation-period guidelines for someone who tests positive for COVID-19 are all of the following: “at least 10 days have passed since symptom onset, at least 24 hours have passed since resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, and other symptoms have improved.” These guidelines are in line with the California Department of Public Health and the Pac-12 itself.

Here’s the distilled situation: Cal’s football program is highly vaccinated, but was the source of a major COVID-19 outbreak. Once the outbreak was discovered, Berkeley’s Department of Public Health, in tandem with the university, instituted safety precautions that are recommended by Cal-OSHA. They began testing more frequently, which revealed even more positive tests, some of which may or may not have otherwise been discovered. 

It’s a testament to the efficacy of the vaccines that members of Cal’s football program have thus far avoided serious illness, and in some cases, perhaps didn’t even know they were ill until they received a twice-weekly test. But this is nevertheless a major COVID-19 outbreak — one that, if left unaddressed, could easily harm unvaccinated or immunocompromised individuals.

 




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