The return of Big Ten football in October comes at a time when Wisconsin is seeing rising numbers of coronavirus cases, which health professionals fear could lead to further spread of the virus.
Public Health Madison and Dane County issued a message to Wisconsin Badgers football fans on Wednesday, advising fans to avoid football-watching parties when the Big Ten season begins Oct. 23-24.
"The decision to hold the football season right now has wide-reaching impacts beyond athlete and student safety and will impact the health and safety of many people in Dane County. We strongly urge everyone to prioritize the health and wellbeing of all people in their decision-making," the health department said.
Just a day after the return of Big Ten football was confirmed, the department noted that 42 players and staff from the Badger football team have tested positive for COVID-19, adding that even though athletes are likely to recover from the disease, long-term health issues can persist.
The University of Wisconsin doesn't break down how many COVID-19 cases are linked to each university sport, though in its latest update Sept. 10 it announced that 83 of 734 student-athletes have tested positive since workouts began on campus in June.
“We’ve already seen a record number of cases from the UW campus just from students moving in,” said Joe Parisi, Dane County Executive. "While we all love our football Saturdays, the festivities that come with them are going to serve as new spreading events within our community. We have a lot of sick UW students right now - 88% of those who have tested positive are reporting symptoms - and this is before the weather gets colder and flu season arrives."
Across the border at the University of Minnesota, four of 122 tests during the week of Sept. 4-10 were positive for student-athletes. Since athletes began workouts on campus, there have been 43 positive results from 1,406 tests.
The Big Ten's football safety measures includes a 21-day suspension for any player who tests positive, regardless of symptoms. There is also a mandatory shutdown for a program if a team reaches a 5% test positivity rate.