COVID-19 cluster at N.C. State postpones football opener vs. Virginia Tech

AP photo by Robert Willett / North Carolina State University students wearing face coverings walk on campus Tuesday in Raleigh.

North Carolina State's football game at Virginia Tech, the season opener for both Atlantic Coast Conference teams, was postponed for two weeks Wednesday because of a cluster of COVID-19 cases among N.C. State athletes.

The delay comes two days after the Wolfpack paused all athletic activities. The Raleigh school didn't specify which teams were impacted when it announced a cluster of 27 positive cases tied to athletics. Spokesman Fred Demarest wrote Monday on Twitter that there had been 22 positives among athletes, coaches and staff in the most recent round of 693 tests.

N.C. State has announced numerous coronavirus clusters in the past week after students returned to campus, including at sorority or fraternity houses as well as on-campus residence halls and off-campus apartments. The school announced last week that it was moving to online-only instruction for undergraduate courses but would keep on-campus housing open.

By Wednesday afternoon, however, chancellor Randy Woodson announced the school is instructing students to begin moving out of campus housing over the next 11 days to "reduce the on-campus population significantly."

Demarest said the majority of Wolfpack athletes live off-campus. Those who don't will be able to apply for a waiver if necessary.

Moving the game from Sept. 12 to Sept. 26 is the ACC's first disruption of the conference schedule since the league announced plans to go ahead with its football season, though some programs have had to find new nonconference opponents after other schools called off fall sports.

"We appreciate the ACC and Virginia Tech working together in partnership to move this game to a mutual open weekend," N.C. State athletic director Boo Corrigan said. "There's no blueprint for what we're all trying to navigate, and we are grateful for everyone's collaboration to make this work."

The ACC, Big 12 and Southeastern are the only three Power Five conferences that opted to try to play in the fall amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Big Ten and Pac-12, as well as virtually every other lower-level conference, have put off fall sports and are instead hoping to play in the spring.

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente on Tuesday called it a "very fluid situation."

"It's like you walk off the practice field and you're just waiting for the new news that's happened," he said. "It's not a daily thing. It's almost an hourly update, and I think that's going to be the normal. Who knows? Opponents can change and schedules can change. You're going to have to go with the flow a little bit."

Virginia Tech has declined thus far to release results of its coronavirus testing.

In the ACC, a July report by the league's medical advisory group outlined testing and other safety protocols. Those included having athletes who test positive be isolated for at least 10 days before receiving medical clearance to return. Additionally, anyone required to quarantine for 14 days after contact tracing must complete that before returning.

Both teams are now scheduled to open the season with ACC matchups against in-state foes on Sept. 19: N.C. State will host Wake Forest, while Virginia Tech will host Virginia.

Virginia's original opener, against Virginia Military Institute of the Southern Conference, was called off when the Keydets canceled their season.