GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- As student-athletes have been filtered into campuses across the country for voluntary workouts, the University of Florida has released its extensive plan to return players safely and prevent a breakout of coronavirus.
Players started to make their way back to campus in waves beginning on May 26th, with voluntary football workouts having begun this past Monday. 10-15 student-athletes are being screened daily, beginning with COVID-19 tests that take about 36 hours to come back. Until a negative test result is received, those players aren't allowed into facilities.
A further physical exam is completed after test results are returned, and student-athletes are screened daily with a fever check and questionnaire. Staff members also screened and tested. The school has yet to decide on further testing as it is too early to tell the test's future capacity.
As of Tuesday, Florida had tested 87 student-athletes through the program, and 80 test results came back negative with the remaining seven pending. Two student-athletes tested positive outside of the program previously: One in April, and another that is currently outside of Gainesville.
In order to workout, student-athletes must show up dressed as locker rooms are closed until further notice. Workouts can be scheduled by appointment, and staff has to wear masks while the workouts are going on. The weight room has been moved to Florida's indoor practice facility, Associate Athletic Director of Sports Health Dave Werner said in a Zoom call with media on Tuesday, providing a Powerpoint presentation of the Screen, Test, and Protect plan.
"With setting our weight room up in the indoor we’re able to open up those doors, the garage doors, and come up with an outdoor area to train," noted Werner. "The risk [of COVID-19 spread] really decreases with that."
Werner believes that Florida is the only school in the SEC to have taken that precaution so far.
The plan, certainly thorough, is well-suited to prevent outbreaks from student-athletes while on campus. But given the uncertainty of how the virus spreads asymptotically, Florida is prepared for this plan to be easier said than done.
"Duke [Werner] and I are both health professionals and we realize that we are going to have to live with COVID, we're going to have positive cases that we're going to have to deal with," said Stacey Higgins, who holds the same position as Werner.
The reality of the situation is that, at some point, the school will have to deal with COVID-19 being on campus as other student-athletes, the student body as a whole, and more staff return as well. With restaurants and bars opening in the area, let alone people traveling back to Gainesville from across the country, cases are bound to pop up.
“We’re fully prepared that we’re going to have a positive and we’re going to have to isolate that individual and also go through the state department of healthy tracing program," Higgins continued. "If it gets to be too many, that’s where the UF Health people will help us with that process.”
UF soccer and volleyball teams will begin to return for physicals on June 15th without workouts starting June 22nd. Men's and women's basketball follow suit on June 29th, with workouts beginning July 6th.
Student-athletes will be provided with further education on how to avoid contracting and/or spreading the virus, the importance of handwashing, social distancing, and face coverings, and what to do if ill.
"We all need to understand the fluidity of what we're dealing with," said Werner.
“Probably the safest place in Gainesville will be in our facilities for our athletes with the precautions and what's been put in place to protect them," Werner claimed. "But we're not with them 24 hours a day. We're just going to continue to work on the education part and just try the best we can to have them understand moving forward what's at stake.”