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With COVID-19 variant positives, Michigan pauses athletics

Wayne State v Michigan

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 04: General view of the Crisler Center during the game between the Michigan Wolverines and Wayne State University Mchigan. Michigan defeated Wayne State 79-60. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The entire University of Michigan athletic department is pausing after several positive tests for the new COVID-19 variant that transmits at a higher rate.

The state Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday it issued recommendations for the school, although not an order. The school said Saturday night its move followed the positive COVID-19 tests for several individuals linked to the athletic department. The entire department could be in quarantine for two weeks.

The 11th-ranked women’s basketball team was supposed to play at home against Purdue on Sunday. That was one of four athletic events the school had scheduled. The men’s tennis team was hosting a tournament while women’s tennis was in Atlanta. The men’s gymnastics event at Nebraska was also postponed.

The seventh-ranked men’s basketball team wasn’t supposed to play until Wednesday at Penn State.

“Canceling competitions is never something we want to do, but with so many unknowns about this variant of COVID-19, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread among student-athletes, coaches, staff, and to the student-athletes at other schools,” athletic director Warde Manuel said.

Michigan said it has worked diligently within state and Big Ten guidelines, but the state’s HHS department was calling for a more aggressive strategy for the new variant.

“Given continued transmission of the variant within UM athletic programs, MDHHS is recommending a very aggressive strategy that exceeds current program efforts,” Dr. Joneigh Khaldun of MDHHS said in a memo to university officials Saturday.

“The core of this strategy places ALL UM varsity athletic programs in quarantine until further notice and up to 14 days from today’s date,” the memo added.

Michigan’s men’s basketball team leads the Big Ten and had four games scheduled in the next two weeks, including a big rivalry game against Michigan State on Feb. 6.

The women’s team currently has its highest AP ranking ever. Ohio State handed the Wolverines their first loss of the season Thursday despite 50 points by Michigan’s Naz Hillmon. The Wolverines were supposed to play six games between Sunday and Feb. 7, including two against Michigan State.