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California-Arizona State game in jeopardy with several Golden Bears still in quarantine

Saturday’s football game between California and Arizona State is in jeopardy of being cancelled because several Golden Bears players remain in quarantine due to contact tracing related to one positive case of COVID-19 on the Cal roster.

It would be the second straight cancellation for Cal after last week’s game against Washington was called off, but there was some optimism this week within the program that the City of Berkeley Public Health Division would release several members of the team from quarantine for contact tracing upon further inspection of the Bears’ practice protocols.

However, on Tuesday evening, a spokesperson for the city issued a statement to ESPN indicating that will not happen.

“The University was made aware last week of the timeline for when the case will end their isolation period and for when the contacts will end their quarantine,” city spokesman Matthai Chakko said in a statement. “The team should use that information as a timeline for return of those individuals to the field. No further direction is pending from the City.”

The Bears player tested positive early last week. Cal’s entire defensive line is in quarantine and is not scheduled to exit that 14-day mandated period for those determined to have come into close contact with a positive case of COVID-19 until Nov. 17, sources told ESPN.

The players in quarantine have continued to test negative for COVID-19, but those negative tests do not allow a player to exit quarantine due to the virus’ 14-day incubation period, Chakko said.

The Pac-12’s game cancellation policy set the minimum threshold for available scholarship defensive linemen at four for teams to be able to play, though it does allow for the possibility a team could choose to play below the minimum.

Last week, Cal coach Justin Wilcox said without the availability of the impacted position group, the team could not play.

On Tuesday, Wilcox said he was told by Cal’s athletic administration and the university he would learn the status of the game on Wednesday.

“They told me there’s a chance that we would play,” Wilcox said.

What remains unclear to Wilcox is why so many members of his team were placed into quarantine despite following practice and meeting protocols designed to avoid close contact designations.

“I don’t know why they would make the decision they’ve made,” Wilcox said. “We’re trying to get clarity on that, but those are not discussions I’m involved in.”

With a six-game regular season before the Pac-12 championship game is determined, Cal is looking at the possibility of losing a third of its season due to one asymptomatic case. Facing that reality, Wilcox was asked Tuesday if the program would consider moving to a different location, presumably in order to find less stringent enforcement policies for contact tracing.

“You’d have to ask the administration. That’s not a decision I would make,” Wilcox said. “The football program will do anything, whether it’s practice protocols meeting protocol, whatever we need to do in order to play, but the decision will remain with the athletic administration and the university. We recognize the significance of the virus. This is not minimizing the virus.

“What we want to know is how we can be better so these things don’t happen. Obviously, we don’t want to spread it to the community. We want to be good neighbors and members of the community. We are just looking for some feedback on how to do it better. There are some guys in quarantine that are not sure why they’re in quarantine.”

On Monday, Washington coach Jimmy Lake indicated that if the roles were reversed, he did not think his team would have faced the same quarantine mandates determined to be necessary by the city of Berkeley.

“From the details I’ve heard from what happened down there, that would not happen here at the University of Washington,” Lake said. “Our medical advisory team has done an amazing job and our medical team here of just how the contact tracing works and all the protocols we go through. The exact situation that just happened down there would not happen here at the University of Washington.”

The Cal-Washington tilt was one of two games in the Pac-12 to be cancelled on the conference’s long-delayed opening weekend, along with Utah vs. Arizona, which was called off after Utah did not have 53 available scholarship players for the game. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday the team had risen above the minimum threshold necessary to compete but would need to spend the week getting walk-on players up to speed in order to play at UCLA on Saturday.

Cal’s inability to play due to contact tracing raises questions about the impact of the Pac-12’s daily testing program.

In a news release announcing the Pac-12’s deal with the Quidel Corp. to implement daily testing for all its athletes, it said, “The testing will also significantly reduce the number of contact traces required and the breadth of contact tracing required, with the goal of relieving some of the burden on local health authorities, as a result of removing or significantly limiting the spread of infection through athletics activity.”

The release also noted, “Any return to competition is subject to requisite approvals from public health officials.”

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