The implications of Garbers’ viral tweet

Photo of Mia Horne

It’s been more than 19 months since this pandemic first started. Between March 2020 and today, the world has had to completely readjust to a new way of living under COVID-19.

There is no rulebook for how to operate under the abnormal circumstances of COVID-19, and we’ve had to change and adapt with each new piece of information. But one thing seems to have been held constant despite the pandemic-induced fluctuations: college football.

If you took a walk through Cal’s campus at any point during the 2020-21 calendar school year, you’d see practically empty buildings with hardly anyone in sight. Campus was a ghost town and students completed their classes completely from home. In contrast, Memorial Stadium has had their lights on all throughout the 19 months, with a temporary hiatus from practice for a few weeks in 2020 until the football team could make a “safe” return.

For starting quarterback Chase Garbers, the Bears’ ability to keep playing despite the pandemic has been hampered by what he views as unfair COVID-19 guidelines implemented by University Health Services and the city of Berkeley. Garbers took to Twitter on Nov. 8 to express his frustration with the city of Berkeley and University Health Services in the way they’ve handled the outbreak on the team.

But what’s missing from Garbers’ tweet are the stats: Cal football has 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and those numbers have the potential to grow. 99% of the team is vaccinated, so most of those cases are represented by breakthrough cases in vaccinated individuals.

Many of Garbers’ teammates have shown their support for his fight against strict protocol, including starting lineman Luc Bequette, who mentioned that UHS had allegedly threatened arrest for those on the team who didn’t agree to be tested. 

There are two components to this debacle, first and foremost being the facts behind the actual guidelines set in place by the city of Berkeley. There is much debate over the specific details of when and how many times the athletes were required, recommended or allegedly coerced to test through threat of arrest.

According to Garbers, city officials went back and forth between whether testing was “highly recommended” or “mandatory” and ultimately settled on mandatory. According to city officials, the team did not follow the guidelines of wearing masks indoors, getting tested when sick and staying home when sick.

Prior to the outbreak, vaccinated football players were required to follow the testing regime enforced by the school of submitting to be tested once every 180 days. Following the outbreak, athletes were placed on a new testing schedule separate from that of regular UC Berkeley students. This irregularity was a major cause for frustration among team members who felt like they were being treated differently than their peers.

The Berkeley Public Health Division classifies the outbreak on the team as a “major outbreak” until there are 3 or less confirmed cases remaining, which means only 39 cases are needed to recover before the outbreak is under control.

The second component of this debate is the emotions behind it. A team on the come-up after a decisive 39-25 victory against Oregon State was forced to play a game without many of their key starters and then postpone another highly anticipated match against rival USC. The Bears had real potential to beat USC and improve their 3-6 record, but now the future of the season remains uncertain.

Tensions are made even higher by the fact that during the 2020 season, four of Cal’s eight scheduled games were canceled due to COVID-19 related reasons. I can only imagine how frustrating that would be for student athletes who have dedicated their entire college careers to bettering their team.

Amid all the pushback from football players and family members aghast at how the city of Berkeley has handled this crisis lies the truth that playing football during a pandemic is a privilege afforded to us that’s not worth risking the health and safety of others.

Why would star players such as Garbers and Bequette push back against getting tested unless there was fear that some members from the team would test positive and their hiatus from the field would be lengthened? However unfortunate the consequences of a positive test on the team’s season, the consequences from a massive outbreak are much larger for the health and safety of the Berkeley community.

The outrage from athletes and supporters who agree that the city of Berkeley is being too strict with their testing regimen reaches a moot point when faced with the very real fact that there is a large outbreak of COVID-19 on the football team and measures should be taken to prevent the spread.

Cal played football through the pandemic and will continue to do so. This outbreak is a temporary road bump on a path that has been otherwise highly accommodating for Cal football.

Garbers’ frustration with the city of Berkeley pales in comparison to the bigger picture — that we’re all just trying to stay healthy. Whether the city imposes a five-day, seven-day or even 10-day quarantine doesn’t matter when a global epidemic rages on and puts everyone at risk.

Mia Horne is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].