‘We simply are not there’: US needs to control COVID-19 before resuming college sports
The United States needs to control COVID-19 before it will be safe to resume in-person schooling and college sports, an expert said Thursday.
"We simply are not there,” Carlos del Rio, MD, executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine, said during a teleconference hosted by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and NCAA.
Del Rio, who serves on the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory board, said the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests in a community should be below 10% — ideally under 5% — and there should be fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 population in order to safely reopen schools and resume college sports, two subjects that have been hotly debated.
He offered Georgia as an example. There are around 30 cases per 100,000 people and the proportion of positive COVID-19 tests is around 15%, del Rio said.
“Obviously, we’re far away from where we need to be,” he said.
Currently, out of the five major collegiate football conferences in the NCAA, the Big Ten Conference and Pac-12 Conference canceled fall sports in the hope of pushing them until the spring semester.
The remaining three conferences — Atlantic Coast Conference, Southeastern Conference and Big 12 Conference — have decided to move forward.
Brian Hainline, MD, the NCAA’s chief medical officer, said the NCAA has developed mandates that colleges must follow to play sports.
“Superimposed on that policy is [that] any student athlete who does not wish to participate in sports because of a fear of COVID-19 will not lose his or her scholarship, will not lose his or her eligibility,” Hainline said. “We're moving into very troubling waters right now. It's a very narrow path to get fall sports right.”
Collen Kraft, MD, associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, said it is difficult to determine if students would be safer at schools or in their own homes.
“There probably are places where individuals have more risk at home potentially, given where they live and who they live with, than they may have at college and university,” said Kraft, who also sits on the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory board.
Del Rio noted that the U.S. has a quarter of the world’s total number of COVID-19 cases.
“Yesterday, we broke a record — having over 1,500 deaths from the coronavirus in our country. We have a serious problem,” he said. “I feel like the Titanic — we have hit the iceberg, and we have to make decisions on what time to have the band play. We need to focus on what’s important. What’s important right now is that we need to control this virus. Not having fall sports this year and controlling this virus, to me, is the number one priority.”
- NCAA. NCAA Board of Governors decision on fall sports championships during 2020-2021 and requirements for each division related to the conduct of fall sports and championships. https://ncaaorg.s3.amazonaws.com/committees/ncaa/exec_boardgov/2020-21BOG_RequirementsFallChampionships.pdf. Accessed August 13, 2020.