With the start of the fall sports season just a few weeks away, the NCAA outlined its safety recommendations ahead of competition amid what is become an untenable pandemic.
As part of its guidance, the collegiate athletics governing body established ground rules for COVID-19 testing, quarantine procedures, and isolation protocols for those who are vaccinated and unvaccinated.
During the fall season, those who are fully vaccinated will not be required to undergo regular testing unless they exhibit symptoms or have been in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, the six-page document said. Masking is only required for vaccinated people in indoor settings or during team travel.
Athletes, coaches, and staff members who are not vaccinated would be subjected to testing at least three times per week and are expected to wear a mask and practice physical distancing when possible.
The NCAA edict comes as the United States is in the midst of a dangerous surge related to the delta variant mutation. As of Wednesday, the country has averaged 92,000 cases per day over the last seven days, with more than 56,000 people currently hospitalized.
“Despite widespread vaccine availability, current vaccination rates are inadequate to provide community-level immunity and vary significantly state by state and county by county,” the NCAA said. “However, because of emerging evidence that the delta variant is highly transmissible, and that fully vaccinated individuals can become infected by the delta variant and transmit COVID-19 to others even when asymptomatic, the concept of community-level immunity becomes less relevant. Instead, prevention strategies become paramount.”
Several HBCU conferences have already released recommendations on how its COVID-specific protocols will work once the season starts.
SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland strongly encouraged athletes to get vaccinated or risk losing opportunities to possible infection.
“I urge all student-athletes to get vaccinated,” he said during last month’s SWAC Media Day. “If you’re not, you’re not going to be able to finish the season.”
Those who are vaccinated will not have to undergo multiple rounds of testing, contact tracing, or quarantine unless presented with virus symptoms, according to the league’s new COVID-19 policy.
Players, coaches, and staff members who are not vaccinated, will be subject to testing three times a week, including the day of the game, and be required to quarantine for 14 days if coming in contact with someone who tested positive, McClelland said.
The SIAC, a league that halted all athletics in 2020 and this past spring because of the pandemic, instituted a mandatory vaccine policy for all players, coaches and staff members except for those who have received a medical or religious exemption.
“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,” said SIAC Commissioner Gregory Moore. … “It really is about risk mitigation and trying to protect these student-athletes.”
The MEAC and CIAA have yet to announce COVID-19 policies.