Tennessee pauses football activities after positive COVID-19 tests

The Tennessee football program has paused team activities after recent COVID-19 testing produced multiple positive tests among staff members and athletes, the school announced on Wednesday.

The Volunteers are scheduled to begin spring practice on Tuesday, but that could be re-evaluated. Tennessee’s spring game is scheduled for April 24 at Neyland Stadium.

The university on Wednesday identified a COVID-19 cluster that includes 11 COVID-19 cases and 13 close contacts. That cluster includes the positive tests within the football program, a team spokesman confirmed.

After learning of the positive test results, affected staff members and athletes immediately isolated and took safety measures in accordance with university, CDC and local health department guidelines, Tennessee stated in its announcement.

A Tennessee football helmet during a game at Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field.

The cluster stems from an off-campus gathering, which then moved to on-campus activities at the Anderson Training Center, Tennessee spokesman Owen Driskill said.

The Anderson Training Center is where the football program conducts team activities, including its offseason strength and conditioning.

“All those involved have worked with university contact tracing and taken precautions, and their cooperation is greatly appreciated,” Driskill said.

The gatherings occurred on March 9 and were identified as a cluster on March 12, according to Tennessee’s COVID-19 dashboard. This is the university‚Äôs 14th COVID-19 cluster of the spring semester.

As of Tuesday, there are 48 cases of COVID-19 at Tennessee, and 242 people in isolation or quarantine. Tennessee defines a cluster as at least five positive COVID-19 cases or 20 close contacts who come from one event or location.

This is the second COVID-19 cluster identified by Tennessee this week. The first came from an off-campus gathering that then relocated to an on-campus outdoor seating area, and included five COVID-19 cases and 24 close contacts. Wednesday’s cluster is the fifth cluster during the spring semester coming from an off-campus gathering.

Tennessee is scheduled to have 15 spring practices during a five-week period, culminating in the spring game.

If the start of practice is delayed, it could increase the number of scheduled practices in remaining weeks so that it still has 15 practices, finishing with the spring game.

Last year, Tennessee had two spring practices before the pandemic nixed remaining practices, and players were sent home and finished the semester remotely taking online classes.

Tennessee’s spring practice this year will give first-year coach Josh Heupel an opportunity to implement his schemes. Additionally, the Vols have important position battles throughout the roster, with turnover at several starting positions on both sides of the ball, including quarterback.

Follow Blake Toppmeyer on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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