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Florida pauses lacrosse, baseball after COVID-19 spikes; football’s rate low but rising

The Gators’ newest numbers are more worrisome than not.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: FEB 22 Miami at Florida Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Florida Gators released new reported numbers on COVID-19 testing among athletes and football players on Tuesday — and while the numbers overall are troublingly high, the numbers for football show current low levels of infection.

Per a release shared widely with media members, Florida has administered 1,564 tests to athletes since they began returning to campus on May 26, and gotten 103 positive results — but the numbers for September have 528 tests performed and 68 total positives. For football players, the totals are 692 tests performed and 29 positives since May 26, and 230 tests with just seven positive results in September.

The positivity rates derived from those numbers are 6.6 percent for all athletes since May 26; 4.2 percent for football players since May 26; 12.9 percent for all athletes in September; and 3.0 percent for football players in September.

Taken as a whole, these numbers can generally be interpreted as a fairly strong sign that Florida’s procedures and protocols — and athletes’ behavior — have been somewhat effective in keeping athletes free from COVID-19 infections. Rates of 4.2 and 3.0 percent for football players since their return to campus and during the last two weeks are especially impressive, as the state of Florida was dealing with mitigating rates far, far higher than that for most of the spring and summer — often in the double digits — before a recent decline.

But a 6.6 percent positivity rate for all athletes despite their proportionally smaller share of the testing population — while Florida’s football roster is obviously the largest of any sport the university fields at a varsity level, the athletes on the other 20 teams vastly outnumber the dozens of Gators gridders — is also somewhat higher than the total average for Alachua County, if right in line with the 6.67 percent rate reported for September 14.

(Bizarrely, Alachua County’s total positivity rate of 4.2 percent also mirrors Florida football’s total positivity rate to an uncanny degree.)

And the 12.9 percent rate among all athletes in September is deeply worrisome, eclipsing the rolling two-week Alachua County rate of 9.2 percent that has been climbing as students return en masse for the fall term and nearly halving the massive 27.1 percent positivity rate for students being tested at the Student Health Care Center through September 11. And while that latter number is high, it’s also reflective of a largely self-selecting population, while athletes are being tested regularly regardless of symptoms.

The September rate for athletes also likely reflects a significant active outbreak, as Florida released numbers last week that were far rosier: Just 42 of 1,227 total tests for athletes were positive, and just seven of 191 September tests were.

Of the 337 tests performed on Florida athletes in the last week, a staggering 61 came back positive for a positivity rate of 18.1 percent. And if that percentage is an accurate heat check for the entire athlete population, it’s far closer to the self-reporting student population than comfortable — and seems like a strong indicator that Florida’s athletes are almost as likely as Florida’s on-campus student body to catch the novel coronavirus.

Many of those cases may be accounted for by large outbreaks among Florida’s lacrosse and baseball teams, which Florida said in a statement would have all athletic activities paused. Per the statement, 31 positives were attributed to lacrosse, while 15 were reported from baseball.

And Florida’s soccer team is dealing with the fallout from three positive results and the associated quarantine mandates, which the program revealed Monday in conjunction with a postponement of its 2020 season opener against Missouri, originally (re-)scheduled for Friday, September 18.

Even football’s own small increase in raw numbers, from one positive test among 101 over the first week of September to six positive tests among 129 administered in the last week, gets the sport to a 4.7 percent rate that is relatively high compared to its arguably very impressive record thus far.

So this is, to be clear, a moment of importance for Florida’s chances of playing fall sports, and part of what every college and athletics department was bracing for all summer upon the eventual return of students to campus. Whether numbers continue to rise, plateau, or fall from here, especially with seasons just days or weeks from starting, may dictate what can happen for the Gators this fall.