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Details of University of Michigan's decision to shut down all athletics because of COVID-19 variant

Courtesy to Michigan Photography
The University of Michgian athletic complex in Ann Arbor. All facilities are shut down for up to two weeks in response to an outbreak of a COVID-19 variant.

The University of Michigan has put its athletic activities on hold. Athletic facilities are closed, and practices, training sessions, and competitions are all shut down.

This comes after several people associated with the athletic department tested positive for the new COVID B.1.1.7. variant.

Detroit Free Press higher education reporter David Jesse joined Michigan Radio's Morning Edition to discuss the situation. Here are some key points from the conversation.

On the first known case of the variant in Michigan, which has been traced to a female student-athlete who had traveled to the United Kingdom: 

"She tested negative two days before she traveled back. she came back on January 3. She also tested negative on January 4 and January 6 when she was back in Ann Arbor. Then there was a positive test on January 8 and she began isolation on that day, but by that time she had exposed some folks who we believe either live with her or had close contact with her," Jesse said.

Did the athlete's trip violate any U of M COVID-19 protocols? 

"Not that we know of. She tested coming back. She was tested multiple times when she got here, and that's how they discovered it."

On whether U of M is considering COVID policy changes for the larger university community: 

"The president, Mark Schlissel, sent out a note on Sunday night to the campus community, updating them on this closure, saying they were taking a very careful and close look at the spread. They're going back and re-interviewing folks trying to make sure the contact tracing was being done. So, as of Monday morning, we haven't heard of any changes. I think it just depends on where the contacts were and if it got beyond the athletic department."

On whether the state ordered U of M to shut down the athletic department:

"The memo that the state sent to the university on Saturday does use those terms: recommend, strongly recommend. But certainly you can understand, if you were the university athletic department [or] the university president, and you got a letter from the state strongly recommending that certain actions be taken, that you take those actions," Jesse said.

"Remember that back in late October, early November, they shut everything down for two weeks based on what actually was an order from the [Washtenaw] County Health Department when just the initial strain of covid cases were spiking."

On ripple effects for U of M sports teams and their opponents in the Big Ten Conference: 

"You have to look at a number of games that are canceled. It's not just practices ... games. The basketball teams, for hockey teams, there's volleyball teams. This is peak sports season," Jesse said. 

Both the Michigan men and women's basketball teams each only have one loss so far this season. As of Monday, the men have four games listed as postponed. The women have six.


"You saw a variety of Michigan basketball players take to Twitter ... expressing frustration. They're obviously playing very well," Jesse said. "And what does a two-week break do to a team that's playing well?"

Read more:

"All University of Michigan athletics on 2-week pause after outbreak of COVID-19 variant" by Orion Sang, David Jesse, and Kristen Jordan Shamus for the Detroit Free Press

Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview near the top of the page. 

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Radio staff as the host of Morning Edition in June 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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