UNT testing shot

The North Texas athletics department has 30 active coronavirus cases following its last round of testing conducted last week.

The North Texas athletics department’s coronavirus case count is up to 30.

UNT has seen the total number of cases it is dealing with rise significantly in each of the last two weeks. The school had just three active cases after a round of testing that was completed the weekend of Oct. 25.

UNT’s case count jumped to 15 a week later and doubled in its last round of testing that was completed this week.

The school has not released its testing figures publicly. A UNT athletics department source provided them to the Denton Record-Chronicle on Sunday.

UNT was forced to postpone its homecoming game against Louisiana Tech that was slated for Saturday after its case count jumped to 15. The majority of those cases did not involve members of UNT’s football team, but 30 members of the team would have been unavailable due to active infections or contact tracing issues.

UNT announced the game had been postponed on Thursday. The school is a member of Conference USA, which requires schools to test football players three times per week.

“We are very disappointed to announce the postponement of our game against Louisiana Tech this weekend,” UNT athletic director Wren Baker said in a statement. “However, it is necessary in the interest of the health and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches and staff. We’ve appreciated the consistent dialogue with our colleagues at Louisiana Tech and we look forward to safely resuming play.”

While UNT’s coronavirus case total is for the entire athletics department — including athletes in multiple sports, as well as coaches and staff — the rising number of infections does bring the status of the remainder of the school’s football season into doubt.

UNT is set to face UAB on Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. The question is if the Mean Green will have enough players available to play.

UNT has seen four games either canceled or postponed already this season. The Mean Green lost a game at Texas A&M that was scheduled to be played on Sept. 12 when the Southeastern Conference went to a 10-game, conference-only schedule.

UNT was later forced to call off a game against Houston that was slated to be played on Sept. 26 due to a run of coronavirus infections among its players.

The school postponed a game at UTEP on Oct. 31 because of a rise in infections in El Paso. School officials felt uncomfortable sending players and staff members to the city when it was seeing a significant rise in coronavirus cases.

UNT has since rescheduled its games against both Louisiana Tech and UTEP. The Mean Green will host Louisiana Tech in a rare Thursday night game on Dec. 3 and then travel to UTEP on Dec. 12.

The school has no wiggle room remaining when it comes to adjusting its schedule for the remainder of the season. C-USA pushed its title game back from Dec. 5 to Dec. 18 to allow teams to reschedule games that have been postponed due to coronavirus-related issues.

UNT now has games scheduled for each of the two weeks opened up by the date change. The Mean Green’s game at UAB on Saturday is the first of five that are slated to be played on consecutive weeks before the end of the season.

UNT coach Seth Littrell expressed hope this week that the Mean Green would be able to get their game against Louisiana Tech in while also acknowledging the uncertainty surrounding the season.

“You’re never guaranteed anything,” Littrell said. “That’s where we’re at this season. We’re doing the best we can as a coaching staff, as players and everyone else around the program to do all the necessary things to make sure we’re healthy and we can control what we can control.”

The world of college athletics came to a halt in March due to the pandemic that forced UNT to shut down its campus. UNT athletics department officials later formulated a plan to handle bringing its athletes and staff back to the school’s facilities in the midst of the pandemic.

UNT established a testing plan and also implemented social distancing measures designed to prevent infections from spreading. UNT’s athletes and staff began reporting back to campus in June.

The school has been dealing with coronavirus cases since that time and seen several of its football players miss time due to the disease. UNT distributed a list of seven players who would miss its game against Southern Miss on Oct. 3 due to a variety of issues, including coronavirus infections and contact tracing issues prior to kickoff.

UNT has seen 47 members of its athletics department recover from coronavirus infections since it began its testing program in June. The school has conducted 8,931 total tests.

“We knew that there would be challenges with COVID-19 this season and we were taking precautions to hopefully avoid this situation,” Baker said earlier this fall when the school canceled its game at Houston. “Our student-athlete health and safety are the priority in every decision we make.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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