All University of Michigan athletics on 2-week pause after outbreak of COVID-19 variant

Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Friday, April 3, 2020.

Michigan's athletic department is shutting down for two weeks due to confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, a department spokesperson confirmed with the Free Press on Saturday night. 

The shutdown will affect all sports, including sports that are currently in season like men's and women's basketball, volleyball (which was moved from the fall and ice hockey. The pause will start immediately.

The student journalists at the Michigan Daily were the first to report it.

No changes being made to any other university operations.

“It is our understanding the state did not recommend changes beyond athletics,” university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald told the Free Press.

There are now five cases now confirmed with B.1.1.7, the highly contagious COVID-19 variant, in Washtenaw County. The outbreak traces back to one female student athlete, sources said.

"Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools," said Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel.

More:Wayne County man tests positive for coronavirus variant

More:Washtenaw County urges testing, warns of possible COVID-19 virus variant exposure

University public health officials are working closely with the Washtenaw County Health Department and Michigan Department of Human Health Services on additional mitigation strategies, the athletic department said in a press release.

"The university will be carefully considering additional mitigation measures. There are many unknowns that remain under investigation by U-M, local and state public health officials," the school's release said. "No determination has been made on how the pause may impact scheduled games beyond Feb. 7.

The new coronavirus variant transmits more easily and can lead to more positive cases, the health department said.   

“We are watching this situation as closely as possible,” said Dr. Juan Luis Marquez, medical director of the Washtenaw County Health Department. “And we ask everyone to continue to do everything they can to prevent transmission — mask, distance, avoid crowds or gatherings, clean your hands frequently, and follow isolation or quarantine guidance carefully.”

The county is urging people who visited Meijer from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and Briarwood Mall from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. last Sunday to immediately get tested for the virus. 

The state's patient zero had a negative coronavirus test two days before she traveled Jan. 3 from the U.K. to the U.S., said Susan Ringler Cerniglia, a spokeswoman for the Washtenaw County Health Department. 

FROM LAST WEEK:Washtenaw County woman is Michigan's first known case of coronavirus variant

The woman also tested negative for the virus on Jan. 4 and Jan. 6. She got a positive coronavirus test result on Jan. 8 and began isolation on that date. 

Most of the additional seven people who've contracted the virus since having close contact with the woman live in connected households, Ringler Cerniglia said, and are also in quarantine.

The B.1.1.7 variant is not more deadly and is not likely to make people more severely sick than other variants of coronavirus. But it is 1.5 times more transmissible, meaning it spreads about 50% faster than other strains of the virus circulating in Michigan.

Late Friday night, the athletic department reported it had 22 COVID-19-positive cases during the week of Jan. 16 to Jan. 22.

This isn't the first time U-M has had issues with COVID-19. The football team shut its season down early after a COVID-19 outbreak. The shutdown included the cancellation of the rivalry game with Ohio State.

The winter term for students began on Monday, however most students aren't on campus. The university announced in November it would cancel all housing contracts for the winter term and only allow some students on campus. 

Those who come back to campus will face a crackdown from the university on behaviors related to public health, the school said then.

"Students returning to campus in the winter will encounter a strict, no-tolerance approach to enforcing COVID-19-related policies," the university said in its announcement. "Depending on the violation, penalties will include automatic probation, university housing contract termination, and removing university recognition for student organizations hosting or participating in social gatherings."

In-person classes will be limited to those most effectively taught through in-person or required for licensure, the university said.

Free COVID-19 testing will be available 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Pioneer High School, 601 W. Stadium Blvd, Ann Arbor. Pre-registration is available but not required. Details:

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