The University of Washington’s student-athletes are coming back to campus.
And that’s where this gets complicated.
As the West Coast — and everywhere else — withstands the continued aftershocks of COVID-19, the Pac-12 Conference has stated that its member programs can resume voluntary workouts on each respective campus on June 15. But what will testing consist of? And who will get to participate? And what will the workouts look like? And what if, almost inevitably, someone tests positive in the process?
On Tuesday, The Times asked all of the above to Rob Scheidegger and Dr. Jon Drezner. Besides being UW’s associate athletic director for health and wellness and the football team’s head athletic trainer, Scheidegger has been appointed head of the athletic department’s COVID-19 operations committee as well. Drezner — the director of the UW Medicine Center for Sports Cardiology — is the team physician for UW men’s basketball, track and field and cross country, while also working with the Seattle Seahawks and OL Reign. In the last several months, he has represented UW on the Pac-12’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory Committee as well.
The purpose of that committee, Drezner said, is “to ask all the right questions so when it’s time to have the student-athletes back on campus, all of this has been thought of and hopefully all of the stones have been turned over.”
So, in the first of a two-part series, let’s ask — and answer — the right questions. Let’s turn over some stones.
Who is working on Washington’s return-to-campus plan?
UW’s COVID-19 operations committee consists of Scheidegger, medical director and head team physician John O’Kane, deputy athletic director and senior woman administrator Erin O’Connell, chief operating officer Jason Butikofer, director of administration Nina Keaney, football strength and conditioning coach Tim Socha, director of Olympic strength and conditioning Todd Tuetken, men’s soccer coach Jamie Clark and associate athletic director for public relations and communications Jay Hilbrands.
Four subcommittees — focused on medical, facilities, staffing and events — also reports to the COVID-19 operations committee. The committee meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and reports to athletic director Jen Cohen, her executive team and UW’s respective head coaches once a week. It also consults with communicable disease experts at UW Medicine, public health officials, the Pac-12’s COVID-19 medical advisory committee and more.
When will UW student-athletes begin voluntary workouts?
That could happen as early as next week, but it’s not so simple. Upon arriving at their home in Seattle, each UW student-athlete will be required to complete a seven-day self-quarantine before coming to campus. The athletic department will provide education and training on how to properly self-quarantine, and Scheidegger said that “we’re ready to start doing some of that education with some of our student-athlete groups that are going to start coming into our footprint soon.”
The aforementioned quarantine, by the way, allows the student-athlete to leave their home for “essential reasons” — including a trip to the grocery store or a physically distanced walk. Social interactions are limited to individuals who share your living space.
After completing the training as well as the self-quarantine, each Husky athlete will meet with their team physician to undergo a physical that includes both a COVID-19 test and an antibody test. If they clear that evaluation process, they’ll be ready for voluntary workouts.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll have student-athletes starting to gain access back into our facilities during that week (of June 15),” Scheidegger said.
Will all UW student-athletes return to campus simultaneously?
No. UW plans to utilize a phased approach in bringing athletes back for workouts. Scheidegger estimated that, though there are currently more than 600 Husky student-athletes, “I think we’re shooting to keep that first group of student-athletes coming in somewhere in the 100-200 range, based on need, based on specifically identifying teams and athletes that need it the most. We feel comfortable right now with our ability to provide the proper prevention measures for a couple hundred student-athletes, and then we’ll assess quickly whether or not we can do more.”
How do they determine which student-athletes need access to UW’s athletics facilities most?
“I really do mean students who right now are struggling because they don’t have access to fitness equipment to continue their development as athletes or who are in a situation at home that isn’t ideal for studying and their continued development and they would be better in the structure that we can provide within our athletic department,” Scheidegger said.
He added that they will consider which sports typically require voluntary summer workouts to ramp up to fall seasons, and that student-athletes who already live in the area and thus have simplified travel plans may be obvious candidates to reintegrate more quickly.
But the emphasis is first on maintaining health and safety standards with a more intimate, manageable group.
“For something so new, starting smaller just makes sense,” Drezner said. “We want to make sure we can establish our best practices, refine them, move forward and grow from there. So regardless of the number of athletes who come back, for any athlete who’s in our facility, they’re all treated the same.
“They’re going to have temperature and symptom checks before they come in. They’re going to need a face mask or a facial covering. They’re going to need to wash their hands. They’re not going to be able to directly train or weight lift next to someone else.”
Are there set dates for when the next phases of student-athletes will return to campus?
No. Scheidegger said that they will continue to evaluate the results on a week-to-week basis and respond according.
What if someone tests positive for COVID-19?
“Having a positive COVID-19 test is definitely a part of our COVID-19 prevention plan,” Scheidegger said.
The first step following a positive test would be to provide the student or staff member with appropriate health care. They’ll then be required to self-quarantine “for a length of time that our team physicians determine is appropriate to ensure that they’re not spreading viral illness amongst the rest of our athletes and staff,” Scheidegger said.
Besides administering further tests for the person who tested positive, UW staff members will also identify that person’s “high contacts,” notify the individuals who may be affected, isolate and test them as well.
“The team physician that’s managing those particular cases will make determinations on a case-by-case basis about how long that (isolation for high-contact individuals) needs to be, because everybody’s a little bit different. Every exposure is a little bit different,” Scheidegger said. “But we do have policies in place to help guide our physicians and make sure they’re making consistent decisions about what’s best for everyone’s health and wellness.”
Tomorrow’s questions include:
What will the workouts actually look like?
What daily health checks will be put in place?
Will UW’s facilities be completely open when student-athletes return?
Will football players be tested more than athletes participating in less high-risk sports?
Will UW’s football players return to campus in time to adequately prepare for the scheduled season?
What preventative measures will students and staff be asked to take outside of UW’s athletics facilities?
Will UW’s student-athletes receive tests that are more needed by the general public?
Is UW waiting for approval from county or state health approvals to begin voluntary workouts?