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August 04, 2020

Rutgers football team quarantined amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

New Jersey officials believe social gatherings, not athletics, are to blame

At least 28 players for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football team and several members of the team's staff have now tested positive for COVID-19, nearly doubling the number of cases since team activities were suspended last month.

Multiple anonymous sources told the team's outbreak had grown early this week, with multiple players showing symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19. Several other players who appeared to be asymptomatic also tested positive for the virus, according to the report.

All Rutgers players are quarantining in on-campus dorms through Aug. 8, which is one day after the NCAA will permit training camps for college football teams to start nationwide.

New Jersey health commissioner Judith Persichilli said last week she believed the outbreak at Rutgers was connected to a social gathering outside of football activities. At the time of her remarks on July 29, 15 football players had tested positive for COVID-19.

Rutgers joined five other Big Ten teams to halt workouts due to coronavirus cases, including Ohio State, Michigan State, Maryland and Indiana.

Gov. Phil Murphy, who recently allowed contact sports to resume in New Jersey, said Tuesday he believes the cases at Rutgers mirror similar outbreaks linked to gatherings across the state.

"It is our overwhelming sense, and I can say almost with complete certainty, that the outbreak was not related to athletic activity," Murphy said. "In other words, it was outside of the lines of their preseason preparations. And so if that's true, it's consistent with where we've seen a lot of the outbreaks of late."

Murphy tightened the state's COVID-19 restrictions on Monday amid rising coronavirus cases linked to social gatherings, including outbreaks among lifeguards in Harvey Cedars and Surf City and a house party in Jackson, Ocean County, that counted as many 700 people in attendance.

The cases among Rutgers' football players and staff come after smaller conferences to which other New Jersey colleges belong, like the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the New Jersey Athletic Conference, decided to cancel or postpone fall sports.

An analysis of budgets across the Big Ten suggests Rutgers could lose as much as $50 million in revenue if the football season does not move forward. That was the lowest estimate among the schools in that conference, where Penn State could lose as much as $91.3 million and Ohio State could see more than $104 million in lost revenue.

Murphy said Tuesday he does not anticipate intervening in the Rutgers outbreak or calling for the team to cancel the season, as New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently implored colleges in her state to do with fall sports.

"It is worth noting that conferences matter here," Murphy said. "So what the Big Ten decides, what the NCAA decides (is important). Frankly what our posture is, for the moment we'd like to see proceed."