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USC football player tests positive for the coronavirus

USC players strike a pose on the field after beating Utah
USC players pose for a photograph after beating Utah in Salt Lake City.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

During the first three weeks of the Pac-12 season, as games were canceled across the conference and uncertainty reigned amid spiking cases of the coronavirus, USC football had largely avoided any fallout.

That changed Monday night following the team’s return from Utah, when one USC player tested positive for the coronavirus.

All other test results among team and staff Monday night were negative. The player, who was not identified, tested negative three times within 36 hours of Saturday’s 33-17 win over Utah, including once hours before the game.

The player in question has since shown symptoms of COVID-19 but was not present at USC’s facilities Sunday or Monday, according to USC. With the Trojans set to face Colorado on Saturday, in a crucial game that will determine the Pac-12 South leader, the extent to which the team could be affected by the positive test remains unclear.

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Former USC quarterback Matt Leinart has appeared to reach a breaking point with his tolerance of regulations meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

USC shut down its facilities Tuesday and conducted meetings virtually while awaiting another round of test results.

As of Tuesday morning, coach Clay Helton said the team was “going to seek guidance” from Los Angeles County public health officials to determine which players or staff would be affected by contact tracing protocols.

“When more information is available, including additional test results, contact tracing and public health guidance, we will provide it,” Helton said Tuesday.

The window for any potential exposure on the team’s weekend trip to Utah was notably narrow. USC’s team plane landed Friday in Salt Lake City around 5 p.m. Players and staff were ferried from the airport to the hotel, where they remained the rest of the night before being tested in the morning. Those results were all negative, as were tests from Utah, which had more than two dozen players in quarantine the previous Saturday.

The Trojans left Utah late Saturday night after the game and returned home to L.A. in the early-morning hours Sunday.

“There’s a lot of logistics to it,” Joseph Wood, USC football’s chief of staff, said before the team’s first trip this season. “The concerns are making sure there’s no interaction or very little interaction with anyone outside of our travel party.”

That includes traveling on a plane that Helton described earlier this month as “the biggest plane you could possibly imagine.”

“It’s a big enough plane where we’re spacing between seats,” the coach continued.

That seating arrangement could be of special interest to L.A. County public health officials this week. County guidelines dictate that those in close contact must isolate for 14 days, a length of time that would impact USC’s subsequent Pac-12 matchup Dec. 4 with Washington State.

According to county guidelines, as well as considerations set by the Pac-12 in September, a close contact is defined as someone within six feet of proximity for more than 15 minutes. An average flight from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City lasts just under two hours.

Those contact-tracing rules have already led to a slew of cancellations through three-plus weeks, including two this week. Washington’s game against Washington State was called off Monday and Arizona State’s game with Utah was canceled Tuesday.

USC is one of just three Pac-12 programs that had gotten through the first three weeks of this season with its schedule unscathed. Until Monday, its football program hadn’t had a single positive case since September, when the program shut down along with men’s water polo, due to an outbreak caused by off-campus spread.

USC quarterback Kedon Slovis’ performance against Utah won’t stop persistent questions about why his throws don’t have the zip they did last season.

On Monday afternoon, USC athletics announced it had just one confirmed positive out of 1,157 tests conducted, from an athlete in a sport not participating in on-campus workouts. A few hours later, a positive test had put the football team’s next game in potential jeopardy.

Still, in spite of the positive test result, Helton said he was proud of his team’s discipline in adhering to safety protocols.

“We’ve been here since July 6, and I’ve got to credit both their discipline and their sacrifices they’ve made, as well as thank the university and our leadership, athletic and university leadership, for the resources they’ve given us,” Helton said. “We’re testing so many times, but it provides the most accurate and current information and keeps us as safe as possible.”

Those sacrifices this week will include giving up a traditional Thanksgiving. While USC awaits word on whether it will play Saturday, turkey dinner will still be served Thursday, but it will be individually packaged, and USC players will eat separated from one another.

“I wish we could meet together as a family right now and men could see their families,” Helton said, “but in preparation for each and every game we have to follow the protocols that have kept us healthy and safe up to this point.”

Etc.

USC is ranked No. 18 in the first College Football Playoff rankings released Tuesday. No. 15 Oregon is the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team. Kickoff of USC’s game against Washington State Dec. 4 was moved up from 6:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. because of the 10 p.m. curfew in L.A. County. ... Linebacker Ralen Goforth missed practice Tuesday because of a midfoot sprain … Linebacker Palaie Gaoteote was held out while he remains in the concussion protocol. … Running backs Stephen Carr and Markese Stepp returned to practice and “looked good,” Helton said.


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