Multiple LSU football players have tested positive for coronavirus and are now in self-quarantine, multiple sources told The Advocate.
The total number of cases began with a group of five to six players, a source said, and it originated from a gathering of friends in Baton Rouge. No players have been hospitalized and each case has shown mild symptoms.
At least 30 of LSU's 115 players have been quarantined because they tested positive for COVID-19, according to Sports Illustrated, or because they had contact with a player who tested positive.
A portion of LSU's football players, according to the report, were quarantined after attending bars in Tigerland — a student-focused nightlife area that the Louisiana Department of Health announced on Friday produced more than 100 positive cases.
LSU's cases are the first since the football program began voluntary workouts on June 9, and the players entered a thorough process the athletic department organized before the team returned to campus.
Players who test positive must recover in isolation for 10 days, according to LSU's plan, and they must be symptom-free for three days without medicine before they begin a scaled return to full team activities.
LSU athletic trainers conduct contract tracing studies with positive-tested players, and, once other people have been identified to have been in contact with a positive-tested player, they enter the same recovery protocol.
LSU officials directed comment to Shelly Mullenix, director of wellness and a senior associate athletic director, who has led the department in its preparation for athletics to return in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mullenix declined to confirm specifics associated with players who have tested positive or have been quarantined, and she said the athletic training department was prepared for what many LSU officials viewed as an inevitability.
"This is what we planned for," Mullenix said. "We planned for this. We executed everything we can do on the front end."
The emergence of LSU's cases comes at a time when athletic departments are formally announcing impacts made by coronavirus across the country.
Kansas State announced Saturday that 14 football players tested positive and the school has paused workouts for 14 days. Clemson said on Friday that 23 football players have tested positive since returning to campus. Texas announced Thursday that 13 of its football players tested positive.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said Friday on The Paul Finebaum Show that positive cases within Tigers football players returning to campus is "to be expected" and it's "a good thing" that provides the school an opportunity before the season begins.
"You learn how to deal with them: you quarantine and you isolate, and then you track and trace," Woodward said. "I think starting early has been to our advantage to really get there and get to this education and this protocol where we can do these positive things so we're not scrambling and rushing in July and August."
Saturday's news also fell on Louisiana's highest total of new COVID-19 cases (870) since April 10 (970). It's the first time the state has reported more than 700 new cases in four consecutive days since April, a troubling sign as Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards moves towards Phase 3 of his plan to re-open the state.
Woodward said Friday that he still anticipated a full Tiger Stadium when the Tigers open the season against UT-San Antonio on Sept. 5, but said a requirement for fans to wear masks is "definitely in play."
As professional leagues gradually return to play, Woodward said college football still has about a month to reach a decision about the season.
When football players returned to campus, Mullenix said, they were screened for COVID-19 using antibody tests, designed to reveal if someone has recovered from the virus. Then, as soon as a player reports symptoms, they are screened with Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which uses a nasal or oral swab to detect an active or very recent infection.
Mullenix studied the coronavirus for months and consulted with local guidelines and coordinated with a group of LSU employees, which included senior associate athletic director of facility management Dan Gaston, strength coach Tommy Moffitt, school athletic trainers and the school's NCAA compliance officer.
Together, they created and enforced a controlled environment in LSU's football operations building.
Players have their temperature checked before entering the building. Strength and conditioning coaches wear masks during workouts. Players receive food to-go in pre-packaged containers.
In workouts, LSU can't exceed 20 players in the weight room at one time. The strength and conditioning staff divides the team into six groups, staggering the amount of people in the facility throughout the day. Players don't wear masks, but they use racks spaced 10 feet apart.
Players are told to report to athletic trainers as soon as they feel symptoms. The trainers, who have gone through extensive training, begin a comprehensive questionnaire that decides what action must be taken and uncovers what people the player had recently been in contact with.
The protocol limits potential spread to "mini-clusters," Mullenix said. The current scenario is an example, Mullenix said, and, since it includes only mild cases, it can be viewed as a "safe experiment."
It also serves as a warning.
"I can tell you that the experiment that we're going through in Baton Rouge has nothing to do with football," Mullenix said. "The restrictions lifted with bars and restaurants, and this happened with people who attended bars and restaurants. It shows exactly that they need to pay attention to the rules. Don't go out when you tell them not to go out."