When concerns over COVID-19 forced the NCAA to cancel most of its championship events in the spring of 2020, including the lucrative men’s basketball tournament, nobody thought we’d still be talking about the virus two and a half years later.
And yet here we are in the fall of 2022, and new COVID cases were still hovering around 60,000 daily in the United States as of mid-September, with around 375 deaths per day.
The good news for student-athletes is that sports, like most other activities we took for granted before the pandemic, have returned to relative normalcy. Practice fields are packed, stadiums are full, and concerns about COVID have largely given way to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
That bad news is that all it would take is one outbreak on campus—just one—to potentially derail an entire season. And COVID-19 is hardly the only highly contagious disease to worry about these days. The emergence of monkeypox and other viruses have forced schools to reassess their disease management strategies.
For the student-athletes, losing a significant chunk of their season, or even a few games, could be heartbreaking. For the schools themselves, canceling games could be a financial nightmare. In the case of Division I football, the cancelation of a single game could mean the loss of millions of dollars, but lost games can cost significant revenue for any program at any level.
At PubSEG, we’ve seen firsthand the devastation of losing games to COVID. A high school soccer team and a college softball team at two of the schools we partner with both missed championship games because of COVID outbreaks.
Some stretches of the school year are more worrisome than others. The first few weeks of the fall semester, with students all back at school, is typically one of the times that COVID cases on campus rise. With many schools around the country relaxing or even eliminating safety protocols, that trend is likely to continue this fall.
The University of Michigan, for example, reported 683 cases on its Ann Arbor campus during the first week of the semester this fall. For a school with nearly 50,000 students, that doesn’t seem like a significant number. But it’s still more than triple the number of cases (182) reported during the same week in the fall of 2021.
“As the fall semester gets underway, campus is buzzing with excitement and interaction through orientation activities and social gatherings,” the school’s chief health officer wrote in a message to students. “Not surprisingly, with the repopulation of campus, we are seeing transmission of COVID-19 within our community.”
Michigan is obviously not alone. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign saw more cases over the first few weeks of the semester than at any other time during the pandemic, including a single-day high 326 new cases on Aug. 30, eight days after the start of classes.
Keeping the virus from spreading from the general student population to the athletic programs isn’t easy, but it’s key for teams looking to make it through the season unscathed by COVID or other diseases.
There are several steps teams can take to try to protect their athletes. Increasing testing to ensure that positive cases are quickly identified and isolated, holding practices outdoors, splitting up into smaller groups during practices, requiring masks in the locker rooms and other indoor facilities, and making sure students properly clean up after themselves are just some of the ways coaches and athletic directors can minimize the spread of various viruses.
Still, it’s impossible to eliminate the threat entirely, no matter how careful or proactive you are. There are certain inherent risks with playing sports—most notably the unavoidable close contact on buses, in locker rooms, and during the practices and games themselves.
Having a system in place that allows athletic departments to efficiently manage their disease case investigation and COVID-19 contact tracing can go a long way toward minimizing these risks.
The new PubSEG Portal is just that system. Developed from months of firsthand disease case management experience, the portal is a fully customizable, HIPAA-compliant software platform that can be used for contact tracing, vaccine and booster verification, symptom monitoring, secure messaging, daily health screenings and surveys, case reporting, and more.
Whether you partner with PubSEG or purchase the software to use as part of your own disease case management strategy, the portal is an extremely effective tool for keeping your student-athletes healthy, while dramatically reducing the risk of missed games and lost revenue.
If you’re looking to help ensure your team’s games proceed uninterrupted this year, give us a call at 856-240-8117 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to learn your specific challenges and how we can help you beat them.