As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the world, The University of Tampa athletic program is feeling its impact but also ensuring they take extra measures to protect UT’s athletes and all members of the UT community. Student-athletes at UT have been able to safely undergo practices and workouts as they follow National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and Center of Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and protocols such as wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing.
Despite putting these protocols in place, some athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 and are required to undergo a thorough process before they can return to their teams. An exact number has not been allowed to be publicly released but according to assistant athletic director of Sports Medicine at UT, Scott Brickett, all the athletes who have tested positive are doing well and had mild, to moderate symptoms.
“The process that they go through is similar to that of a non-athlete student. If they test positive they are isolated at a location either on campus (if they reside on campus), off campus (if they reside off campus), or at home (if they prefer to return home),” said Brickett. “After they are released from isolation they will either begin a graduated return to play protocol (if they are asymptomatic) or they will be referred to a cardiologist for testing, be examined by our team physician, and then begin a graduated return to play protocol if they are cleared (for the symptomatic student athletes).”
For women’s cross country athlete Sydney Rhodes, this process has not been easy. Rhodes tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, Sept. 7, after experiencing symptoms such as headaches, chills, sore throat and loss of taste and smell for about five to six days.
“The worst for me was the body aches and the joint pain,” said Rhodes. “I had days where I could not move my neck or my back and there was one day where I could not get out of bed. I was also really fatigued where one day I was only awake for three hours out of the day. It hit me harder than I expected.”
Rhodes went into isolation for 10 days, under the impression that she would have been able to return to practice after the 10 day period, but there was a miscommunication.
“I was told by the school and rapid trace that I could return to all normal activity 10 days after I was symptom free, which would be Sept. 17,” said Rhodes. “I returned to class and I tried to go back to practice and my coach stopped me and told me that I have to go through all these protocols before I could return which I was not aware of.”
The UT athletic department emailed Rhodes after she had attempted to return to practice and laid out a list of protocols that she must go through and complete before being able to return to the track. The department is calling it a “Return to Participation Protocol.”
These protocols are put in place not only to safely allow athletes to return to play, but also to protect athletes health in the long run, making sure the after effects of COVID-19 do not impact their overall quality of life. The first step in the extensive list of protocols that an athlete must do, is provide a negative COVID test. This is something that has proven to be difficult not only for Rhodes, but for other members on the cross country team that tested positive.
“I have been going to CVS to get my test done because the UT health center will not re-test unless you are showing symptoms. I took my third test on Friday, Sept. 25 and all three of the re-tests have come back positive,” said Rhodes. “It’s been really frustrating for me because I have been symptom free for 17 days.”
One of Rhodes’ teammates has had to re-test six times before they got a negative test result.
After an athlete receives a negative test result, the next step in the “Return to Participation Protocol,” an Athlete is required to get set up with a cardiologist provided by the UT training department. The cardiologist will perform a check-up and have bloodwork done on the athlete.
Once that has been completed, the athlete will then receive a physical from the team physician. Once all the physician care routines have been met, the athlete will then be able to begin a modified training program that will last about five to eight days. It involves activities such as light jogging, 70% heart rate max for 15 minutes, and slowly increasing day by day from there.
Rhodes is hoping to be back to training before Thanksgiving break.
The men’s basketball team had one player test positive, causing the team to go into isolation for 10 days. However, all players have experienced no symptoms and are set to begin a gradual return to practice next week.
“The players are all feeling great and are ready to return to practice next week,” said an anonymous source in the athletic department. “We are going to begin a slow return, starting off with just getting some shots up and then slowly increasing activity each day.”
Other teams within UT’s athletic department are experiencing the same issue. When an athlete tests positive for COVID-19, the entire team is required to cancel practice for the next two weeks, despite the number of teammates who received negative results.
The UT athletic department has set a number of procedures in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 with hopes of not only protecting the UT community, but also being able to return to play in the spring semester.
Some of these procedures include, “Educational resources that must be completed by all student athletes prior to participation, daily symptoms questionnaires that must be completed prior to daily team activities (practices or fitness sessions), and surveillance testing that involves randomly selecting a percentage of the student athlete population and testing them for COVID-19 even if they a asymptomatic,” according to Brickett.