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University of Arizona to pause return of athletes as COVID-19 cases rise

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The University of Arizona Athletics Department announced in a press release Monday that it will temporarily stop bringing more student-athletes back to campus as coronavirus cases in Pima County rise.

There has been one positive COVID-19 test among the 83 athletes who returned to the university for voluntary practices and workouts, the department said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we have made this decision with campus and community partners to pause our re-entry process,” Vice President and Director of Athletics Dave Heeke said in a statement.

“The health, safety and well-being of all members of our community is our number one priority. We will continue to work in conjunction with campus partners and our local government agencies to support and evaluate a safe and healthy return to campus.”

Arizona consulted with the university’s re-entry task force, Campus Health Services, Pima County Health Department and other local health care experts.

It cited both the increase in cases and a “burden on the healthcare system.”

“Health and safety continue to be the guiding force in our re-entry process,” Dr. Stephen Paul, a physician with the Campus Health Service, said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the status and impact of COVID-19 in our community and our ongoing and safe training of student-athletes already on campus.”

Arizona will “seek additional guidance” from government authorities about whether to continue voluntary workouts.

The Power Five commissioners are working to create testing protocol for football, according to CBS, but issues include differing program budgets and whether local and state health boards from the 41 states with an FBS program will want to provide input.

Randy Cohen, the Arizona associate athletics director for medical services, expressed concern with the potential of a football season to CBS.

“We’re trying to play football on the upswing of a global pandemic,” Cohen said. “Can we accomplish it? The odds are probably not very good.”

On June 11, Arizona issued a tentative plan about athletes returning. During that time, it said 20 football players could return June 11, 30 more on June 22 and another 30 on June 29.

At that time, Heeke expressed optimism contrary to Cohen’s remarks to CBS. Heeke said Arizona has protocols and guidelines that would come into play when there was a positive test.

With Monday’s announcement, the next group of football players scheduled for July 6 and the soccer and volleyball players scheduled for July 13 will be delayed.

Football players have been practicing outside Arizona Stadium in “pods” of 10 people or less, primarily doing strength and conditioning workouts, with instructions to keep at least 15 feet of distance from one another.

Pima County reported 7,568 coronavirus cases and 268 deaths as of Monday. The positive case count has more than doubled since June 11, when there were 3,479, and more tripled since June 2, when there were 2,496 cases, according to the Tucson government website.

Of PCR test results, 9.4% have come back positive in Pima County.