When the Atlantic 10 Conference announced that fall 2020 sports competition would be postponed, Gianna Lucchesi, a sophomore on the University of Richmond women’s soccer team, was devastated; another item added to a growing list of difficult changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When a member of the team tested positive for COVID-19 on April 2 or 3, postponing the team’s April 4 game against Virginia Commonwealth University, the fate of the women’s soccer spring season became uncertain, Lucchesi said.
After contact tracing put one member of the team in quarantine, all players on the team were tested for COVID-19 from April 4 to 6. This allowed the team to play its game on April 6 against VCU and finish out the season, Lucchesi said.
“It means a lot to a lot of us to have this opportunity to even play,” Lucchesi said, “So the fact that we get this opportunity, I think a lot of us want to capitalize on it.
“And that's why we have been so disciplined at staying in our soccer bubble and listening to the rules and following our coaches’ lead and just doing what we have to in order for us to play this season.”
Women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse and football have all had game postponements this month because of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Women’s soccer and football postponed one game each because of UR’s COVID-19 protocols, according to the teams’ online schedules.
The football team also cancelled its April 10 game because of COVID-19 protocols at William & Mary, according to the team schedule on the UR Athletics website.
On March 31, UR announced the women’s lacrosse games scheduled for April 1 and 4 against Davidson College and George Mason University, respectively, would be postponed because of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. On April 5, UR announced that the April 11 game against George Washington University would also be postponed.
The women’s lacrosse team won its game scheduled for April 16 at VCU. Student-athletes on the women’s lacrosse team were instructed by a coach to avoid commenting on the team’s COVID-19-related game postponements, according to a student on the team.
UR Athletics put protocols in place this year to prevent entire teams from being taken out of the game by contact tracing in the event that a case of COVID-19 is reported among a team, said Chris Jones, associate athletic director for sports medicine and student-athlete welfare at UR, in an interview with The Collegian.
All athletes are tested at least once a week and on the day before a game, Lucchesi said.
When student-athletes came back from summer and winter breaks during the 2020-2021 school year, teams were carefully tested to limit transmission risk and split into groups of eight to ten people for lifting, practicing and training, Jones said. About two or three weeks after returning from break, most teams began to practice together again, he said.
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All athletes are required to wear masks at all times, except when actively participating in their sport, Jones wrote in a statement sent by Matt McCollester, assistant athletic director for communications, in an email to The Collegian. For lift days, student-athletes are assigned partners for contact tracing purposes, are required to wear masks and must maintain as much distance as possible from one another, Jones said.
When a student-athlete’s test comes back positive, practices and other team activities are immediately paused until the entire contact tracing process can be completed, Jones said.
All team practices – except practices for individualized sports such as golf or tennis – are recorded to allow contact tracers to determine close contacts of a positive case on the team, Jones said. Based on the videos and contact tracing interviews, transmission among UR sports teams appears to stem from living or dining together, social interactions or traveling rather than through practice or play, he said.
The Center for Disease Control defines a close contact as someone within six feet of an infected person for a total of 15 minutes or more within two days before the onset of symptoms of the person who tested positive for the virus, regardless of whether either person was wearing a mask.
Transmission of the COVID-19 virus in college sports is far more likely to be traced to nonathletic activities, The New York Times reported. Experts believe almost none of the COVID-19 transmission in college sports is linked to games themselves, according to the NYT article.
UR’s football team gets tested for COVID-19 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week, Kobie Turner, a senior and one of the UR football team’s five captains, said. On March 31, one to two players tested positive through a PCR test, Turner said.
On April 1, the Colonial Athletic Association announced the postponement of a UR football game against James Madison University that had been scheduled for April 3, 2021.
Contact tracing following the March 31 test results led seven or eight football players to quarantine or isolate, including the one or two players who tested positive, Turner said. Several starters and other critical positions were among this group, he said.
Turner and the other football captains met with head coach Russ Huesman that day, Turner said. They collectively determined that there had not been enough players lined up in each position because of testing, contact tracing and injuries, and there was not enough time to prepare scout players in those positions to play in the April 3 game, Turner said.
Scout players practice the plays of opposing teams in UR’s practices to help the team prepare for games, Turner said.
“We've been really clean,” Turner said, referring to the team’s track record with COVID-19, “And we've done a, in my eyes, a really great job of handling something that's really not as controllable as we would all like to think.”
Along with the A-10 Conference, CAA Football announced over the summer that fall 2020 competitions would be postponed. The pandemic has continued to affect UR’s sports this spring season with a number of COVID-19-related interruptions.
The uncertainty has taken a toll on Turner’s mental health, but playing and competing this spring has been “nothing short of a blessing,” he said.
UR Athletics does its own contact tracing separate from the contact tracing team working with the non-student-athlete population, Jones said. All UR contact tracers take an online course to learn how to properly contact trace, he said.
In general, in the event of a positive case on a team, the decision to postpone or cancel a game or match is made based on the number of positive tests, how many players are left free after contact tracing and what positions those athletes play, Jones said.
Contact contributor Olivia du Bois at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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