BERKELEY, Calif. — California coach Justin Wilcox said his team followed all proper protocols before a COVID-19 outbreak that led to dozens of positive tests and the first postponement of a major college football game this season.
The Golden Bears played in Arizona last week without starting quarterback Chase Garbers and six other starters due to positive tests from 24 players and assistant coaches. Additional positive tests Tuesday made it impossible for Cal to assemble a team this week and led to Saturday’s game against Southern California being postponed.
“We have followed guidelines through the athletics department, the university and the city of Berkeley,” Wilcox said Wednesday. “We have health workers housed in our building, in our practices, on our planes, in the weight room and the training room. There are people here to help us with all of that on a daily basis. Is everyone perfect and following every protocol? I don’t know if I that might say. We’re doing our best.”
The Berkeley Public Health department released a statement Tuesday night saying there was “continued non-compliance with public health measures” that contributed to the 44 lab-confirmed positive tests.
Specifically, the department said people in the program were not tested if they were sick, stayed home when sick, or wore masks indoors.
“These simple measures keep people safe,” the statement said. “Failing to do this not only results in individual infections, illness and worse, but also threatens the safety of everyone around them — especially those with compromised immune systems.”
Wilcox did not respond to those specific allegations, saying he did not want to get into a public altercation with the health department.
“I don’t necessarily want to get into a back and forth with the city of Berkeley,” he said. “For me, it’s about productive communication. I don’t know if that’s overly productive.”
Offensive lineman Valentino Daltoso said players followed the rules the best they could and don’t know why a team with 99% vaccination coverage had an outbreak.
“We have guidelines that are clear to us as players and people in the building. Masks indoors, in the conference rooms, when you’re being admitted and all that sort of thing,” he said. “I can really only speak for myself. I do my best and we go out, but we spend a lot of time together every day playing football, going to training and stuff, so I don’t know. It’s really hard to put your finger on to point out in such a situation.”
Several players, including Garbers, were publicly frustrated with what they called a lack of communication and transparency.
Wilcox said he understands that sentiment and believes communication could have been better on all sides, but believes his players are in a better frame of mind after the USC game was moved to December 4 rather than cancelled.
“The disappointment and frustration they feel is temporary,” Wilcox said. “I think their attitude today is great. They understand it’s very complicated and difficult. They were great on the pitch today in terms of coming back and looking forward to practicing and doing what they love to do. I think they just looking forward to the next opportunity to play together again.”
The players who didn’t test positive have practiced and Cal is prepared to use improved protocols for the rest of the season, including things like regular testing, social distancing training and players being fed meal boxes.
Cal will face rival Stanford next week, then make a trip to UCLA for the rescheduled final against USC.
Wilcox said he is hopeful that enough players will be out of their isolation to play those games by next week.
“Certainly optimistic. I wouldn’t say we’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “During the rest of the season I would expect that we would have a regular testing schedule. I would expect that too. But we are optimistic.”