Virginia Tech Athletic Department Details Safety Protocols, But Remains Mum on COVID-19 Testing Numbers

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Throughout Justin Fuente's tenure in Blacksburg, Virginia Tech's football program has been relatively tight-lipped on information regarding the team and the individual student-athletes.

As a result, the athletic department has received criticism from portions of the fan base for not being as forthright and transparent as it can be. Fair or unfair, it has sometimes put the school under more scrutiny than is probably warranted.

This all came to a head earlier this week, when former Virginia Tech cornerback Caleb Farley penned a piece for Football Morning in America for NBC, in which he described the reasons for his decision to opt-out of the college football season.

"This year at Virginia Tech, at our workouts, I started having deep concerns about staying healthy. Guys were going home, going to Myrtle Beach, coming back to campus, and we weren't getting tested. We're all together, working out, close to each other, and you have no real idea who might have it, if anybody might have it. One day I looked around, and we were like 100-deep in our indoor facility, no masks. My concern grew more and more," Farley wrote.

Naturally, Virginia Tech came under scrutiny for COVID-19 protocols, prompting a Wednesday afternoon Zoom call with the school's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mark Rogers, and Director of Athletics Whit Babcock.

The questions about Virginia Tech's health protocols for student-athletes were nipped in the bud quickly.

"ACC protocol is to test our student-athletes once weekly, but we will often test more than that," Dr. Rogers said on Wednesday.

"If we get a positive test back from a student-athlete, we work with the health department to contact trace. From there, the health department assists us in determining who needs to be isolated or quarantined," Dr. Rogers continued.

As for the safety of Virginia Tech's football players working out in the indoor practice facility, known as the "Beamer Barn," Dr. Rogers assured that all organized activities in the practice facility were well-vetted.

"We had the health department review the Beamer Barn before conducting team workouts in the facility. It's a great open air flow facility when the garage doors are open and we feel it's a way to conduct workouts in a safe manner," Rogers continued.

As for the COVID-19 testing numbers, neither Dr. Rogers nor Babcock had an amount that they were willing to disclose for total tests conducted or the positivity rate among the student-athletes.

"In order to test our athletes the right way, it requires a six-figure amount of money for the entire year," Babcock explained.

"I'm pleased with the number of tests conducted and the results so far. President Sands is eager to share testing results campus-wide with a dashboard that's being developed for the university website. We want to ensure that we give comfort to students, student-athletes, and families, but we want to do it the right way," Babcock continued.

When addressing a question regarding criticism that Tech has faced for not disclosing the testing numbers or results, Babcock defended the process.

"We're handling our protocols in a legally sound way that's been vetted by our legal team at Virginia Tech...and that's the way we've always done it. But I acknowledge that the information is important and I know that Dr. Sands is eager and working hard to prepare the information to share," Babcock said.

While the process of testing student-athletes seems sound and in line with protocols conducted at other institutions, it is clear that Virginia Tech as a school will continue to receive criticism for as long as the information is withheld. 

While the numbers are not available today, it's clear that they will be revealed in the near future - likely prior to the start of first semester in the coming weeks.

Regardless, the impact of the testing numbers will be significant, as the athletic department and the university as a whole are sure to be impacted by the results, and any path forward to resolution.

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