Leading up to last Saturday’s game against Navy, Pirate Nation was abuzz on various social media platforms and message boards over the possibility of junior quarterback Holton Ahlers not playing due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Those rumors ended up being true and Stephen Igoe of 247Sports.com has since confirmed that Ahlers tested positive sometime early last week, prompting the medical staff to quarantine a handful of other players. What resulted was Ahlers’ absence on Saturday, leaving the Pirates without their junior signal-caller and four other players due to contract tracing.

Under the current American Athletic Conference COVID-19 guidelines, student-athletes and staff cannot test out of a positive PCR test and individuals who have been contact traced must spend 10-14 days in isolation. That leaves ECU without Ahlers and others as the program navigates this bye week.

“We have one active positive in the program right now,” ECU head football coach Mike Houston said on Tuesday. “Then a handful of players that are out as a result of contact tracing. We do expect all of those players to be back with us this weekend, within a day or two of each other. As we go into next week, that group will be rejoining us as long as there are no setbacks as far as testing goes.”

While false positives and negatives are a symptom of testing three times per week, ECU had yet to really fall victim to that. Earlier in the off-season, the Pirates were forced to pause workouts after identifying a cluster of cases within the program, but forged on without much issue once that was cleared up.

Like every other team in the AAC, ECU tests its student-athletes, coaches and staff three times per week, twice with a PCR test that takes around 24 hours to get results, and an antigen test that provides results in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.

“I think each conference has spent a lot of time developing their protocols,” Houston said. “I know this has been something that the physicians and administrators in the American Athletic Conference spent a great amount of time during the off-season coming up with. Testing procedures, protocols, contact tracing procedures, all those things that we go through each week. We tested yesterday, we’re testing again tomorrow, it’s part of our daily life right now.”

In place to keep people safe, these protocols are not perfect and can present challenges that are hard for student-athletes and coaches to overcome. On Saturday, ECU may have experienced a different outcome with Ahlers under center and its full assortment of starters, but out of an abundance of caution, they were not allowed on the field.

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize these protocols are designed to allow football to be played in the midst of a global pandemic, something that has not been attempted in recent memory.

“I think that those protocols are giving us the opportunity to play,” Houston said. “Have there been some frustrating things as a result of the testing and protocols? Absolutely. Those are things that I can’t control, there’s some things in there that nobody can control. You have to respect the protocols, you have to respect the people in those positions that they are doing what’s best for your players and your staff to keep everybody as safe as possible while playing this game.”

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