The reports of COVID-19 test results for Penn State athletics have been encouraging the last three weeks, and the latest finding in Wednesday’s report – one positive in 1,241 tests administered to athletes – is eye-catching.
And that makes head football coach James Franklin nervous.
“I don’t want to say anything because I kind of get this feeling, as soon as people feel like they’re doing good and got a good system and don’t respect the virus enough, then it gets you,” Franklin said Wednesday night at his weekly post-practice availability.
“So I just keep pounding the same messages home over and over and over again. I wake up in the morning respecting this virus. I go to bed at night respecting this virus, and I just try to make all the decisions that we have to make with the virus in mind first.”
In a three-week period from Sept. 26 through Oct. 16, Penn State has tested 3,754 athletes with just seven results coming back positive. The athletic department does not break down the numbers of tests and positive cases by sport.
Since Sept. 30, the testing numbers have included the Big Ten’s daily antigen testing protocol for the football program, a system that was put in place when the conference approved the return of football on Sept. 16.
Franklin remains cautious, and talked about a meeting after Wednesday’s practice with the team’s Leadership Council, which wanted to know why the coach cut out some unspecified “things.”
“I said, ‘Guys, I’m just trying to control as many variables as I possibly can to keep everybody safe,’” he said. "I get it’s a sacrifice. I get it’s a challenge. We’ve got a pretty good thing going right now, and I want to try to sustain it as long as we possibly can.
“The minute you drop your guard, that you’re in a good place, or you say something in a press conference or after a game, it can get you. So I’m going to keep respecting the virus. I’m going to keep respecting all the policies and procedures that the Big Ten has in place. I think a great message that we keep pounding is, treat everybody that you come in contact with like they have the virus.”
Like all teams in the Big Ten, Penn State’s players will have their final COVID-19 tests on Saturday morning, hours before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff of their opening game at Indiana. Franklin said a chief concern is that a test could turn out to be a false positive, which he called “a little bit of the nervous anxiety that I have a little bit.”
“At the end of the day, these were all the decisions and all the protocols that we put in place to keep everybody as safe as we possibly could,” he said. "There’s not going to be a perfect system. You’re probably going to have some people held out of games in some programs, and some fan bases are going to be angry because it’s going to come back as a false positive after the game, and they could have played.
“To me, as long as everybody’s playing under the same parameters, then it’s randomly fair. There’s going to be some challenges and issues with it. There’s no doubt about it.”