By Dakota Busch
“We are very hopeful that athletics will look more like 2019 than it did 2020,” said assistant athletic director for sports medicine and head athletic trainer Scott Brickett. “So we expect that we will return far more to an environment like 2019, where it is standard protocol, and it is not the more interfering protocols of 2020.”
This year, athletes have faced significant protocol changes such as wearing masks during athletic activity, limited practice group capacity, travel restrictions, and weekly COVID-19 testing.
Brickett, along with other trainers, tested over 550 athletes for baseline COVID-19 testing. Around 30-50 athletes are tested daily in the athletic training room. He believes the most significant change that will happen between this semester and the following is the decrease in testing.
“We do not anticipate having to do testing next semester, with our anticipation that COVID-19 vaccine numbers will help decrease the number of people that get the virus,” said Brickett.
Beginning on Monday, April 5, Florida residents ages 18 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Temporary residents, such as college students, are eligible as well. There is no clear answer whether athletes being vaccinated will lead to a decrease in protocol. However, the administration believes most student-athletes will choose to receive the vaccine if possible.
“We do not anticipate there being a mandate where athletes have to get vaccinated,” said Brickett. “Although, we would anticipate that many will choose to get it. Our best guess would be maybe 75% of the athletes will choose to get vaccinated with another 25% deciding against it for various reasons, which are usually very valid.”
UT’s director of strength and conditioning, Justin Thiel, has also had to adopt an entirely new protocol for his athletes to train in the weight room. All athletes must wear masks while training, and temperature checks are conducted on all athletes before team lifting sessions. Athletes and Strength staff disinfect all equipment after each team’s training session. At no point this year was the weight room occupancy allowed to exceed 50% capacity. Thiel believes some protocols will still be in place next semester.
“I think we will be closer to normal, including allowing over 50% occupancy, but initially, I am guessing that masks will still be required,” said Thiel.
Thiel is in agreement with Brickett on the expected percentage of athletes that will choose to get vaccinated. However, he could see that number going up.
“If potentially there are advantages for athletes to getting vaccinated, such as not having to wear masks, or having to deal with contact tracing and testing, then I believe that number would go up,” said Thiel. “The more normal things become (travel, overnight stays, etc.) with vaccination, the higher the percentage goes.”
As the 2020-2021 calendar school year comes to an end, UT athletics have completed an athletic season during a pandemic. Assistant athletic trainer, Alejandro Arenas, said it would not have been possible without compliance and effort from all parties involved.
“Adaptation by the athletic administration, staff, and athletes was great, in my opinion. The athletic administration was in constant meetings to assure everything was set in place,” said Arenas. “The sports medicine staff adapted quickly to get the athletes and coaching staff back to playing sports, the coaches were compliant with following protocols and listening to our recommendations, and the athletes were great in adapting to the protocols set in place.”