Notre Dame football players will begin moving into an on-campus hotel on Monday, where they will live all summer and be quarantined upon arrival for up to a week, and will each take a COVID-19 test before starting voluntary workouts on June 22.
Athletic department officials informed players and their families on Thursday evening that about 90 football players will check into single-occupancy rooms at The Morris Inn over the span of next week. The athletes will stay in the hotel and have their meals there until they move into their residences for the fall semester.
The hotel was also used this spring to house students who couldn't leave campus after it shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Once the Irish have all been quarantined and tested along with staff, the football team will move into Phase 1 -- the voluntary participation in workouts with group sizes no larger than 10 -- of the school's three-phase plan.
"I think we've come up with a really good plan," said Dr. Matt Leizler, Notre Dame's team physician. "That being said, there's an element of this that's kind of like building an airplane as you fly it, in that we're learning so much more every week. Which in some ways is fantastic -- we're learning more about this virus and we can use it to help us keep our players and our staff safe -- but it's a moving target at times.
"Everyone needs to be aware that what are best practices are right now, may be different come September or October. We need to be willing to adapt and that's going to be the reality."
During the week of June 15, each player and staff member will take a drive-up nasal swab test and antibody test -- most likely at the football stadium -- in coordination with the school's local lab and health center. Leizler said the tests cost about $100 each, while the antibody tests cost $50.
Leizler said it takes about 48 hours for a test result, but the university didn't want to rush the results so hospital patients with severe symptoms could get them first.
"A priority has been we wanted to make sure we had access to testing, and the university has been really aggressive to ensure that's the case," Leizler said. "We also don't want to step in front of anyone at the hospital or emergency department. We put some measures in place to ensure that's the case."
The football players will have their temperatures taken daily and fill out a symptom survey before they enter any athletic facilities. Head team trainer Rob Hunt said the Irish reconfigured their weight room in a linear way so that the athletes are going in one way and out the other side, and there's "a really good flow and space between equipment."
While there might be 20 athletes in the room at time, they will be working in groups of 10.
Hunt said it's important to take care of the athletes "in a way that they feel safe."
"One kid's experience from the rural Midwest may look very, very different from someone who's from New Jersey," Hunt said. "We've got to be willing to understand that their beliefs and their experiences can differ from ours. How do we help them get through that? How do we calm their anxiety and fears, or even how do we contain the ones that have no fear?
"Our plan is a great plan. Now how do we adapt that into our wide range of experiences through our kids, trying to get them to all believe and feel they're being very-well taken care of?"
Hunt said the initial phase includes strength and conditioning exercises, which are tiered around their daily online academic schedule. Masks are required for employees in the strength and conditioning area and are recommended for the athletes for indoor workouts.
During Phase 2, group sizes of no more than 50 people will be allowed, followed by an unlimited amount in Phase 3. Notre Dame will move to the next phase only if the first one is working.
"Success for us is going to be not having clusters of outbreaks," Leizler said. "We want to make sure with each phase that our plan is working. We're trying to minimize the close contacts if or when we have an illness.
"We're going to have positives. That's to be expected. ... That being said, we need to do a really good job of controlling those. The things that play into that are a really robust contact tracing system to ensure if we have a positive or someone we think may have COVID, we're going to move really quickly in coordination with the university to limit those other close contacts so we don't end up with a cluster."
Leizler said there would be follow-up testing to help prevent that. If an athlete or staff member has symptoms or tests positive, he or she will be sent home to self-isolate and will be scheduled for a telemedicine appointment with the sports medicine department. They will also be referred to an on-campus testing location for an in-person evaluation and testing, and then return to isolation. The school will follow with contact tracing protocols.
Notre Dame associate athletic director Ron Powlus, the sport administrator for football, said the staff wants to limit the athletes' exposure to outside entities "as much as possible," but acknowledged the challenges that come with that.
"It's not realistic to say they are not going to leave their hotel room," Powlus said. "We're going to create some opportunities for them, give some thought to different entertainment opportunities for them, but still keep them to limited numbers and limited opportunity for exposure."
Hunt said it will get more difficult as the players get more involved in workouts and practices when it's approved.
"That's the million-dollar question," Hunt said. "It's the uniqueness of trying to manage this virus with a contact sport. You have to be creative and adaptable. Our coaches are going to have to be creative in terms of the way in which they structure their practices. ... All of this is trying to limit the amount of contact that you can have in a contact sport. It's certainly easier said than done, obviously."