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Athletics: UL not testing all returning Cajun athletes for coronavirus - update on return

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 8, 2020

UPDATE: The return to campus for voluntary workouts by UL football players, originally scheduled for Monday, has been delayed due to Tropical Depression Cristobal, a Ragin' Cajuns spokesman said. UL coaches will be permitted to return to their offices in the school's athletic performance center Monday, but student-athletes will not be allowed to come back until Tuesday. The original story ...

At Sun Belt Conference member Arkansas State, according to a USA Today report last Thursday, seven athletes from three sports have tested positive for COVID-19.

According to the same report, Alabama – with five football players – joined “Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Marshall and Mississippi as known schools with positive tests in recent days.” 

At UL, which like Arkansas State belongs to the Sun Belt, up to 85 football players on scholarship and back on campus – joined by coaches and select support staff – are scheduled to resume voluntary workouts Monday.

Not all of them, however, have been, or will be, tested for COVID-19.

Related: Ragin' Cajuns have a return date for football players

Ragin' Cajuns football players return Monday for voluntary workouts.Buy Photo

Ragin' Cajuns football players return Monday for voluntary workouts. (Photo: SCOTT CLAUSE/THE ADVERTISER)

Asked why not by The Daily Advertiser, the UL athletic department issued a statement Friday saying that “our process takes into account the overutilization of testing materials in the local community, which our team physicians recommend remain reserved for those who are hospitalized or experiencing symptoms.”

Some schools nationally all testing all returning athletes; others are doing like UL is.

The same statement from UL contained a lengthy explanation of the pre-return process for the Ragin’ Cajuns as they prepared to resume workouts.

“Our policy for student-athlete safety in relation to the coronavirus mirrors the policy for students returning to our university’s campus, which, in turn, follows local, state and national guidelines,” it said.

“This process for the department of athletics began weeks in advance of student-athletes returning to campus, as screening measures and telemedicine sessions were executed with the student-athlete population in preparation for Monday.”

Related: 'Ragin' Cajun Resiliency Plan' set for fall

More: What students might expect this fall

The statement also said that “based on the medical screening questionnaire, temperature check and evaluation by sports medicine staff, if there is any concern through that process that an individual is symptomatic or exposed to someone with the COVID-19 virus, our policy has measures in place to recommend a test.”

An individual who does not pass daily screening, including the temperature check, is, the statement said, “immediately sent back home to self-isolation and a telemedicine session is executed by team physicians.”

“If it is believed they need to be tested,” the statement added, “the individual receives a test day-of at home.”

PRIVACY LAWS CITED

UL would not disclose how many, if any, of its football players or other athletes have tested positive.

Citing “privacy laws,” the athletic department said it “will not announce or detail any student-athlete or staff personal medical information.”

But the university did announce in late March that one of its students had tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Related: University of Louisiana at Lafayette student tests positive for COVID-19

And late last month UL athletic director Bryan Maggard said in an interview with The Advertiser that, as of that time, he knew of no student-athletes or coaches who had tested positive.

Now back in their training facilities for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down their campus and ended their spring practice prematurely in mid-March, UL football players also won’t have use of their locker room when they begin their voluntary summer workouts Monday.

Keeping the locker room closed is among several measures being taken to try to prevent spread of the virus, which is responsible for more than 100,000 deaths nationwide, at UL.

The locker room will remain closed at least through the end of July, a Cajuns spokesman said Friday.

As a result, according to a recent UL athletic department news release, “student-athletes will arrive to team facilities dressed and ready to participate in voluntary workouts.”

A second phase of reopening for UL athletes is set for July 1, when men’s and women’s basketball players, cross country runners, women’s soccer players and women’s volleyball players can begin voluntary workouts.

Baseball and softball players, men’s golfers, men’s and women’s tennis players and men’s and women’s track and field athletes can do the same starting Aug. 3.

More: Cajuns will never know what could have been at WCWS

PROTOCOLS IN PLACE

All student-athletes, coaches and staffers will be required to required to wear face masks, which will be provided by the department, “at all times when entering facilities or using common areas,” according to the school.

“Our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our student-athletes and staff,” said Maggard, who first told The Advertiser of UL’s return plans late last month.

UL’s plan was constructed using guidance and best practices detailed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Louisiana Department of Health, the American College Health Association and the NCAA’s Core Principles of Resocialization of Collegiate Sport.

“Our team obtained the most current information available regarding COVID-19 to guide the development of guidelines and procedures that will provide a safer environment for our student-athletes and staff,” UL assistant director of athletics for sports medicine Travis Soileau said in a statement released by the school.

“These procedures were developed to not only ensure the health and safety of our sport programs, but also to mitigate possible outbreaks that could potentially jeopardize the future of our athletics competition.”

UL has not said if it will start its 2020 football season as originally planned with a Sept. 5 home game against McNeese, or – if games are played as scheduled – how many spectators will be permitted at Cajun Field.

But the Cajuns do hope to have fans in the stands.

Rebuilding America: UL plan is to prepare for fans

Maggard has said UL is modeling and preparing for a wide array of possibilities.

But a return for voluntary workouts with controlled procedures is just the first step in what seems bound to be a long and uncertain process, especially with the virus still not stymied and athletes at programs across the country testing positive.

Also according to the school’s news release, “full sanitization” of UL’s student-athlete performance center, its indoor practice facility and its athletic administration building “will occur at minimum three times per day” while “individual areas or stations occupied by persons during workouts or instruction will be cleaned following each instance of use.”

Only one entrance for each facility in the UL sports complex will be used, and hand sanitizer will be made available before entering various areas of the facilities.

Other measures, according to the same release from the school’s athletic department:

“Throughout this process, no visitors will be allowed at the department’s facilities. Additionally, an occupancy rate of 25 percent of the maximum capacity will be enforced in all areas.”

“These protocols will allow our student-athletes and coaches to prepare for the upcoming sports seasons in an environment that prioritizes safety,” Maggard said in a statement.

More: Cajuns athletic director's world flipped by coronavirus

Related: UL's Napier has a coronavirus message for the Cajuns