Nevada Wolf Pack student-athletes returned to Reno last week to begin a 14-day quarantine process before it can take part in voluntary on-campus activities, which are now allowed by the NCAA.
That 31-player pilot program has an expected target date of this Saturday for the beginning of voluntary on-campus workouts. So what happens if one of the Wolf Pack players tests positive for COVID-19 during those voluntary workouts?
It seems more likely than not it will happen given the infectious nature of the disease. Alabama football players worked out last week, and five of the nearly 50 players tested positive. Meanwhile, three Oklahoma State football players tested positive as their workouts began.
The Wolf Pack said it has protocols in place in case one of its athletes tests positive for COVID-19. That will include immediate quarantine, contact tracing and additional testing of close contacts.
“We would take that athlete and self-isolate that athlete and make sure that athlete has everything they need in self-isolation,” said Dr. Tony Islas, the Wolf Pack's team physician who helped create Nevada's procedures and protocols. “If it’s during school, they have their school work, they have their meals provided, things that they need. Once they’re in self-isolation, the other side to it will be that contact tracing. Not just their teammates, but also their roommates, their classmates. The family grows really quickly. It’s looking for those individuals who are in close contact with that person and testing them and making sure we’re not missing something. The idea is to squelch the fire before it gets large. If we do have somebody who comes up positive, it’s a pretty quick response.”
Nevada did not say whether all team activities would be suspended if a player tests positive but did say athletes will have to take surveys on potential symptoms as they move around campus in an attempt to catch any positive athletes before they spread COVID-19.
“Those kinds of questions will be ubiquitous throughout the university," Islas said. "You’ll have them everywhere. Whether it’s walking into the weight room, walking into the training room, going into Legacy Hall, walking into the academic center. All of those places will be manned by a sentinel that will be asking all of those questions. In addition, online our athletes will be filling out the same questionnaire throughout the day, in the morning and maybe in the afternoon asking the same questions so we can find athletes who may start to feel ill, so we can catch them quickly and catch them early.”
If Nevada feels comfortable after a month of the 31-player pilot program, the remainder of the Wolf Pack football, men's basketball and women's basketball players will be invited back to town in mid-July. If that continues to go well, the rest of the fall sports, including volleyball, women's soccer and men's and women's cross country, will return to Reno in early August. The university plans on having an open campus this fall.
“The object here is to be as safe as possible, and the object is to come in as phases, but also be as safe as possible," Islas said. "I can make things safer, but I can never make them completely safe. We are working on contingencies to create safe environments for all of our athletes to compete, to work in, to study in and to practice in. Those environments start with the athletes and the other individuals.”
Islas said the weekly testing the Wolf Pack plans to conduct will continue until testing is no longer part of the local and national discussion.
"We’ll be testing weekly for all our athletes to try and make sure we catch those smoldering COVID cases before they come up and turn into large blazes," Islas said. "We have a plan in place to handle any COVID cases that do occur. We’re looking at self-isolation and quarantine once those things happen. We also have plans in place if an athlete needs to be admitted to the hospital. We have a team to do that for us. In addition, if an athlete doesn’t need to go to the hospital, we have a mechanism to make sure they are healthy and cared in self-isolation.
"From a general standpoint, from a medical standout, I’m really excited about our plan. I think we have a very good plan and are following not only the NCAA guidelines, but actually are being a little more cautious and a little more preventative.”
Columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.