The Daily Gamecock

Q&A: Experts discuss COVID-19 protocols for fall sports

In a year unlike any other, South Carolina athletic programs have had to adjust the ways in which they work in order to prevent COVID-19 from infecting everyone involved.

With there being many uncertainties surrounding sports, The Daily Gamecock was able to get a better understanding of how the university has been handling this situation through an email interview with the experts: deputy athletic director for internal operations and risk management Judy Van Horn and sports medicine specialist Dr. Zoe Foster.

In comparison to other years, how much different have athletics felt since the pandemic started? 

The pandemic has changed the experience for everyone here at the University, and college athletics is no exception. There has been so much uncertainty about the virus itself along with the loss of social activities. For student-athletes, many did not have the same ability to work out and train. For highly trained and elite athletes, working out provides not only physical benefits but also mental health benefits. Coaches have stayed in contact with their teams to help players through this time. It has been a joy and relief for them to return to campus.

For staff, along with the rest of the University, there have been intense planning efforts and time spent developing medical protocols and policies for student-athletes and coaches. In addition, a tremendous amount of effort has gone into ensuring there is strong communication so we can stay connected and continue to “move the needle” forward. It has been a journey. We are so proud of the resiliency of our student-athletes, coaches and staff. It is certainly the difference-maker for successfully navigating a pandemic.

What are some of the protocols and procedures that teams have been taking to ensure the safety of players, coaches and personnel?

There are protocols for symptom checks, testing, isolation for those who test positive, quarantine for those who are close contacts, transporting sick student-athletes, mental health along with team specific protocols for return to play, fans in sports venues, cleaning and disinfecting facilities and many more. The SEC is also developing conference-wide policies to provide for consistency in how each member institution addresses the health concerns related to student-athletes, staff in the time of COVID-19. The NCAA developed resocialization policies that provided another layer of guidance including transition steps schools should take for our student-athletes’ safe return to physical activity.

How often are teams getting tested for COVID-19?

Testing for our teams follows guidelines set out by the SEC. Currently most of our teams are being tested at least weekly. As we get into competition seasons, weekly testing will increase for football, volleyball, and soccer. We will be testing teams that are considered higher risk for COVID transmission more frequently during their competition seasons.

How has the university gone about handling the athletes who have been tested as positive?

We've taken a comprehensive approach. Just like everyone else, athletes who are positive have been asked to isolate for 10 days. Contact tracing is completed for all our positive athletes and those identified as part of that are quarantined for 14 days as required by the CDC. Our staff work hard to ensure from a nutritional and mental health perspective that athletes in isolation or quarantine are taken care of. Our athletic training staff checks in daily with our student athletes to ensure from a medical perspective that issues are addressed appropriately.

In a sport such as football that has so many different people involved, do you think that a college football season will be completed this year? If so, why do you think that? 

I don't think anyone can know if we can complete a college football season this year. But we are planning ahead so that if a season can happen that it happens in the safest way possible for all athletes, coaching staff, game officials, bands, cheerleaders, dance teams and fans.

Other conferences around the country have postponed fall sports, such as the Ivy League and Mountain West. With South Carolina being in the SEC, do you believe that it is the right move to keep pushing forward in the midst of the pandemic? 

The task we have been given by the SEC is to consider how we can safely compete in college athletics. Staff in the Athletics Department, from our facilities management to our coaching staff to our athletic training staff, have put in countless hours to determine what we feel is the safest way forward for our student-athletes to participate in sports this fall if they choose to do so. We have aggressive cleaning protocols, rigorous testing protocols and other safeguards in place to manage the risk of COVID-19. We continue to work with local and national experts to refine and update our policies and procedures as new information and guidelines are published. By delaying the start of the season, the SEC is able to monitor the pandemic situation as students return to campus, and that information will be used as they make a decision whether to play college sports this fall.