Tennessee football has two positive COVID-19 cases but expects to have most of team available
The Tennessee football program had two players test positive for COVID-19 last week, coach Jeremy Pruitt said Monday, but the team avoided a spike, and the Vols (2-5) remain scheduled to play No. 5 Florida (7-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS) at Neyland Stadium.
The positive tests mark the first cases among Vols football players since the season started, and it caused several other players to enter quarantine because of contact tracing.
Pruitt expects a handful of players to be unavailable Saturday, but he added that some of the players who are currently in quarantine will be out of quarantine in time to play the Gators.
"We do have some guys that are in quarantine that won't be able to practice this week but will be able to play on game day," Pruitt said. "It's an unusual circumstance. We're working through it. The next guys are getting ready to play."
Pruitt said that about 16 players have been affected, including one of the team's quarterbacks who is among the quarantining players. Pruitt didn't specify which quarterback.
Jarrett Guarantano has started every game this season, while freshman Harrison Bailey has climbed the depth chart throughout the season. Bailey is an option to make his first career start against Florida.
“These guys that are out there practicing, they’re working hard to create chemistry with our guys," Pruitt said of his quarterback situation.
SEC requirements, released before the season, state that players who must quarantine for contact tracing must do so for 14 days. Asymptomatic athletes in quarantine are permitted to exercise alone, including in athletics facilities, while following social distancing. Testing does not shorten or remove the need for a 14-day quarantine.
“It’s not ideal, but the one thing about it, when you’re in contact tracing, you can still work out. You can still stay in shape. You can do those things," Pruitt said. "You just have to be in a confined environment. They get a chance to watch the meetings via Zoom, so they can look at the game plan. It’s just not actually experiencing the reps out there.”
With some Vols coming out of contact tracing in time for the Florida game and some not available to play, that means that the 14-day clock for quarantining players started at different times, depending on when their high-risk contact occurred with a teammate who tested positive.
Tennessee last played against Auburn on Nov. 21, but simply playing a game with a player who later tested positive does not automatically constitute a high-risk contact.
“The (doctors) look at it, and they go through our local health department with the exact quarantine – when people are in, when people are out – so that’s what we go by," Pruitt said.
The requirements the SEC released before the season noted that each institution’s medical staff has unchallengeable autonomous authority to determine medical management and return-to-play decisions.
According to SEC requirements, an athlete with a confirmed infection must isolate for at least 10 days from the date of the positive test or the onset of symptoms.
Blake Toppmeyer covers University of Tennessee football. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. Current subscribers can click here to join Blake's subscriber-only text group offering updates and analysis on Vols football.