Reaffirming the urgency to protect athletes from potential COVID-19 illness as the delta variant rages across the country at an accelerated pace, SIAC Commissioner Gregory Moore made a national network television appearance to explain the league’s decision to require vaccinations.
“For our league, it was about risk mitigation,” Moore told CNN Thursday. “We’re looking at this delta variant in a sense of a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
The SIAC is presently the only college conference to make vaccination a requirement for competition.
A student-athlete may be exempted from the vaccine requirement if they have received a campus-approved exemption for medical or religious reasons. This exemption will not excuse the student-athlete from COVID testing per guidelines established by local and county health officials as well as any additional campus requirements.
The U.S. is now averaging about 59,000 new cases per day — up 70% from the previous week, according to the CDC. Hospitalizations are up nearly 40%, and deaths are up close to 30%.
Health officials have indicated that the overwhelming percentage of current, new infections are among those who are unvaccinated.
Moore explained that was one of the reasons the conference moved ahead with mandating all athletes, coaches, and staff members be vaccinated before the fall sports season begins.
The conference announced in December that it would delay spring 2021 sports because of the “fluid and dynamic nature” of COVID-19.
“If you look at our college campuses, the most at-risk cohorts are going to be student-athletes who travel, get on buses and stay in hotels and eat in restaurants,” he said.
More than 260,000 coronavirus cases have been linked to American colleges and universities since Jan. 1, and more than 700,000 cases have been reported since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the New York Times.
The newspaper also reported last December that there were unofficially more than 6,600 COVID cases throughout the NCAA in 2020.
Currently, 43.4% of young American adults between 18-24, which is the age group of most college athletes, are fully vaccinated. And among Black people as a whole, just 22.4 % are fully vaccinated.
What also drew concern from Moore and member institutions was the reality that most of the league’s schools were located in areas with low vaccination rates and increasing case counts.
“They’re traveling in a region of the country that has the highest percentage of unvaccinated individuals,” said Moore. “It really is about risk mitigation and trying to protect these student-athletes.”
While Moore said he does understand concerns from those who might be hesitant to get vaccinated, particularly among African Americans who mistrust the health care system because of medical racism stemming from the famed Tuskegee Experiment that he characterized as “medical abuse.”
“The vaccine is the opposite of that,” he said. “The vaccine is trying to help people and protect people.”