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Cautious and Careful, Washington Prepares to Open Its Doors to Athletes

Beginning next week, the university will permit 100 students to use its athletic facilities yet under stringent guidelines and testing because of the coronavirus.
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Virtually a ghost town for three months, University of Washington sports facilities will show signs of life again as early as Monday, with athletes returning in a stringently regulated and phased-in approach.

Training and medical staff initially will welcome back 100 of the school's more than 650 athletes, requiring them to go through covid coronavirus testing, information sharing and smart practices.

If all goes well, the numbers will gradually increase throughout the summer, possibly doubling.

Still, there's so much unknown involving the pandemic. For instance, will there be a Washington-Michigan football game on Sept. 5 at Husky Stadium? And what sort of crowd restrictions might be in place?

Head football trainer Rob Scheidegger, who plays a prominent role in the UW's coronavirus response for its athletes, wouldn't speculate on any limitations for the football opener but he remained hopeful. 

"We're in a state of constant assessment," Scheidegger said. "We're optimistic. Our goal is to operate our sports this fall. There are a lot of factors that go into it. It might not look the same as it did last year."

Unlike other schools, none of the athletes in the UW's 18 intercollegiate sports are known to have tested positive for the virus. Or at least they're not aware of it. They are required to self-quarantine for seven days once they return to Seattle before coming to campus. They have questions that will be answered. 

For now, workouts will be voluntary for everyone. If possible, UW football is hoping to gather the team together in mid-July and begin formalized practices. 

Scheidegger, shown in the photo attending to an injured player and in the video, said all students entering the Husky facilities will be required to come and go through designated walkways, sign in and be tested. Tests will consist of screening for the virus and conducting blood work to assess antibodies and whether someone might have been positive at one time and just didn't know it. 

Athletes will gather in groups no larger than five and be asked to practice social distancing. Workout areas will be wiped down after each usage.

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Six weight-lifting stations will be erected in the concourses of Husky Stadium to provide workout areas that enable more people to train without congregating in close quarters. Or to train in team or position groupings. 

"At the concourse level, it's nice and big and open and covered," Scheidegger said. "It's a location for us to set up other weight rooms. It creates access in a way that will increase student-athlete training and it's thoughtful. I'm not sure why we haven't done it before."

Scheidegger has worked at the university since 2002 and served as the head trainer for the past 15 years. He and his staff feel fortunate to be working with University of Washington medical professionals who have been at the forefront of the nationwide coronavirus response, and cited continuously when actions are taken. 

Besides the Husky athletic training staff, university resources dedicated to dealing with the virus includes team physician John O'Kane, UW Sports Medicine and the UW Medical Center and its laboratories. 

But will there be football this fall? No one knows for sure, including the people on the frontline. 

"I wish I could give you the perfect answer," Scheidegger said. "I know the people at the hospital are working way harder than I am, and we're working every day. I appreciate those people. We're going to have to make the best decisions we can."

A webcast involving Scheidegger, O'Kane, athletic director Jenn Cohen and others can be found here

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