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Bulldogs blitzed by COVID-19 outbreak

36 new positive cases forces postponement of Baylor game
Thursday, September 10, 2020
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The game of football is more than ever all about numbers in the era of COVID-19.

And for that reason, Louisiana Tech’s 2020 season opener set to be played at Baylor on Saturday has been postponed.

The Bulldogs have had 36 players record new positive tests for COVID-19 since Hurricane Laura struck Lincoln Parish on Aug. 27, putting Tech too thin at some positions to carry on with the game against Baylor.

Tech head coach Skip Holtz spoke to the media on Tuesday afternoon previewing the slated season opener against Baylor. On Wednesday afternoon he held another video conference explaining the difference 24 hours had made.

“(On Tuesday afternoon) I still thought we had the opportunity to play (the game against Baylor),” Holtz said, admitting that some of the positive tests for the Bulldogs had already come in by then. I feel terrible that we can’t play the game (against Baylor). We were certainly looking forward to it.”

Holtz said Hurricane Laura canceled COVID-19 testing slated for Aug. 27.

“So after that most of Ruston was without power,” Holtz said. “But some of the dorms and the football building had power being generated from Tech. But we had around 50 players off campus trying to fend for themselves with no electricity. Some slept in the football building. Some stayed with friends. It was just an unfortunate situation.

“We had had three positive tests through three weeks of fall camp. We felt good about the path we were on even though we didn’t know where it would lead. But then the hurricane happened.”

Tech athletics director Tommy McClelland agreed that Hurricane Laura’s strike played a role in the uptick of positive coronavirus tests for the Bulldogs.

“We are obviously very disappointed that we will not be able to open the season this weekend at Baylor,” McClelland said. “However, with the number of recent positive COVID-19 results and contact tracing, it is simply not possible. We would be putting our studentathletes at risk.

“It is obvious that the impact of Hurricane Laura in our community a few weeks ago really sparked our significant increase in numbers. With 95 percent of our city losing power for days — even up to a week in many areas — our studentathletes were forced to find places to stay and some even had family from south Louisiana that came northward to stay with them. So many things that we were able to control for the month of August became out of our control, and I think the numbers prove that it took its toll.”

Holtz said the first COVID-19 test results after the hurricane revealed 10 positive cases.

“Then the numbers went up significantly after the second round of testing. But we still had 56 guys ready to play. We thought we were going to get the third round of lab results in around 6 a.m. (Tuesday). But they were delayed. Late in the afternoon we let them go out and just kind of throw the football around in shorts to stay loose.

“We got the third round of test results around 6 p.m., and those numbers left us with 38 eligible players. That left us very thin at a couple of defensive positions. With those anemic numbers I didn’t feel we had enough players to make it work. Tommy McClelland talked to (Tech President Les Guice) and with Baylor, and everyone agreed that the best decision was to postpone the game.”

Tech players who have tested positive are quarantined in their dorm rooms or residences with safely delivered meals. Tech players who have been around someone who tested positive without wearing a face mask and being within six feet of each other for more than 15 minutes are now also sidelined due to contact tracing regulations.

“That’s a 14-day isolation for the player and any roommate they have. They might be out 14 days and still not ever have had (COVID-19).”

Holtz said Tech hopes to get the next round of football team virus tests in by late tonight or early Friday morning.

“We’ve changed labs hoping for quicker test returns,” Holtz said.

Once a player who has previously tested positive tests negative after 10 days, they will still have to take an EKG to test for potential heart issues from COVID-19, which has been reported as happening by some college football teams.

Holtz said the Davison Athletics Complex which contains the football team offices and locker rooms was being cleaned (he used the term “bombed” on Wednesday) and that he remains hopeful the Bulldogs can play at Southern Mississippi on Sept. 19.

“We hope to return as many as 30 players next week,” Holtz said. “That will give us more depth that we wouldn’t have had against Baylor. So that gives us hope. But at the same time I can’t say how many new positive tests we might get.

“Right now I don’t see us practicing the rest of the week. We just need to focus on getting on our feet academically with classes starting (today). Hopefully we’ll get eight to 10 players back by Sunday and start being able to practice then.”