The University of Michigan is suspending all athletic activities “until further notice and up to 14 days” after several individuals linked to the athletic department tested positive for the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant, the school announced Saturday.
The number of confirmed cases is currently five, with 15 more presumed positives according to The Michigan Daily. The new strain was reportedly introduced at the beginning of the semester (Jan. 19) by a Michigan athlete from the United Kingdom, per the Daily.
All members of the athletic department will immediately quarantine up to Feb. 7, but no determination has been made about games scheduled beyond that date. Among the affected programs is the men’s basketball team, which is currently ranked seventh in the country in the AP poll.
"Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools," said Warde Manuel, the Donald R. Shepherd Director of Athletics.
The school says its public health officials are working closely with the Washtenaw County Health Department and Michigan Department of Human Health Services on additional mitigation strategies, with ”many unknowns that remain under investigation.”
New COVID-19 variant is a ‘super-spreader’
COVID-19 outbreaks are nothing new in college sports, but the B.1.1.7 variant reaching a program is bad news for Michigan and the NCAA.
As of Friday, the B.1.1.7 variant has reached 20 different states with 195 confirmed cases, per the CDC. The strain is estimated to have emerged in September 2020 and was first detected in the United Kingdom. It has since spread beyond Europe to all corners of the globe, including Michigan.
Per Michigan, the strain is thought to be approximately 50 percent more transmissible than the standard form of the virus. Some officials have said it is even more transmissible, calling it a “super-spreader strain.”
Fortunately, the strain’s danger reportedly lies in its spreadability and not in increased mortality rates or a resistance against existing vaccines, but a strain that can spread even quicker than the one that has wreaked havoc with the sporting world is the last thing the NCAA wants right now.
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