After being asked to quarantine at home for 14 days before returning to campus, Louisville student-athletes were welcomed back and underwent drive-up coronavirus testing at Cardinal Stadium on Tuesday.
More than 120 student-athletes, coaches and staff were tested, as small groups of athletes representing football, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s swimming returned a week early to be tested before starting any volunteer physical activity on June 8.
Matt Summers, the head athletic trainer at Louisville, said he has spent considerable time working with local health officials to put procedures in place to make the environment safe during the coronavirus pandemic. The first phase was to bring the small groups back, including 30 football players who weren’t already in town for rehab. Summers reached out to each player and asked them to quarantine for 14 days while at home before arriving to campus, and educated them on basic sanitary guidelines.
“I feel great about our process, about what we have done, and how prepared we are,” Summers said.
The football players will each get physicals on Thursday, and then begin voluntary workouts on Monday. Athletes will have their temperatures checked daily, and answer a daily symptom check before entering the facility.
“We feel confident and comfortable in what we’re doing bringing them back,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “We’re all not 100% sure — I don’t think anybody is — you can ask any doctor out there and they would probably tell you the same thing, but what we have is the safest plan that you can probably come up with, and all of the safeguards we’re putting in, and I think it’s time to get ’em back.”
Summers said the athletes will continue to be tested with a nasal swab by the local hospital system, which will test 10 individuals in 15-minute increments. The students have a map for driving in and out without entering a facility, and anyone who will interact with the students will also be tested.
“I’m very excited about being back on campus, getting the ball rolling for our upcoming season and working out with the guys,” said sophomore forward Samuell Williamson, who was tested Tuesday morning with his men’s basketball teammates. “I just got tested and it was a weird feeling, but I’m glad we’re taking the right precautions for our safety.”
Summers said the student-athletes will be tested again with a nasal swab on Day 8, and that the current turnaround time for test results is around 24 hours, but he hopes that it will be much faster in another month.
“We felt like we wanted to do one immediately, and we saw some research that Day 8 is another good day to do it, especially for those who have traveled,” he said.
Louisville swimming and diving coach Arthur Albiero, who welcomed back about 15 of his student-athletes to campus, was also tested on Tuesday.
“I’m very grateful that our department’s been on top of things,” said Albiero. “I think it’s great that you know from a safety standpoint as a parent, who has children on the team as members of our athletic program. It’s very reassuring. And certainly as a coach, who is responsible for a multitude of people, to know that we’re on top of things.”
Summers said the football locker room will be used, but a limited number of players will be allowed in, and they will be spaced apart and monitored by staff members. Summers said it will be very “orchestrated.”
“We feel like that’s important to have guys have access to their clothes here, to be able to disinfect those clothes,” he said. “That’s really why we did it, we want to make sure those guys are getting proper cleaning done. Our locker room is going to be sprayed after the first group, our training room will be sprayed after the first group. We’ll repeat that cycle for group No. 2.”
Each rack of weights in Louisville’s sprawling, 28,000-square foot strength and conditioning facility is already spread 12 feet apart, and one athlete will be assigned to one of the 26 work stations. The squat racks are also naturally spaced apart, and the outdoor field will also be used initially.
Mike Sirignano, Louisville’s head strength and conditioning coach for football, said the players and staff will wear masks around all of the facilities unless they are working out. Sirignano said he will stand at least eight feet away from the athletes so he can still yell his words of encouragement.
“I’ll run the whole room off a whistle,” he said. “What I’ll have to be wary of and careful of is when I’m yelling in a coaching manner so people can hear my voice that I cannot be within 8 feet of anyone so my droplets, if I do have contaminated droplets, don’t hit anyone.”
Summers said a quarantine process is set up for anyone who tests positive, both on campus and in a local hotel. He said most of the athletes have their own room and bathroom. For now, Louisville will use a contact tracing form and work with the local health department to track individuals who may have been exposed.
“We may have to move them to isolation in a hotel room, and we’re working with our sports nutritionist as it relates to their meals,” Summers said. “We will have a delivery service set up for them from a meal perspective and set it at their doors.”
If all proceeds well with phase 1 and dependent upon NCAA rules, in the next phase an additional 30 football and 60 Olympic sport student-athletes would arrive on campus on June 15. The group would experience similar preparations before engaging in voluntary physical activity by June 22 within their respective venues. During this stage, additional athletics facilities would be opened with limited occupancy. For instance, workouts within the Marshall Center would be in small groups in staggered sessions throughout the day, with disinfecting occurring after each session.
In the third phase of the plan, the remaining football student-athletes would be back to campus on July 7, preparing to begin voluntary physical activity on July 13. Up to 60 additional student-athletes could be included as well in this phase should it be permitted by the NCAA with access to work out in the Marshall Center as appropriate.
By the fourth phase in early August, all student-athletes would return to activities with full practices, scrimmages and competitions as allowed by NCAA or ACC guidelines. All athletic facilities would be open by this time.
Satterfield said he hasn’t figured out yet how the staff will have in-person meetings, or how position groups will meet once everyone is cleared to return for the fall.
“When we’re playing, what’s that going to look like from a day-to-day basis?” he said. “In order to play football, we’re all going to be on the field, and we’re all going to be interacting with each other. What that’s going to look like and how we can go about our business with that, I don’t think anybody 100% knows.”
Once the athletes return, Satterfield acknowledged that there is only so much control the coaching staff will have over them.
“They’re all fearless, right?” Satterfield said. “You’re young, feel like nothing’s going to happen to me. If we’re honest with ourselves, I think these young people are going to just about carry on life the way they know how to carry on life — the way they’ve always done it. They’re going to hang out with each other, pal around, wrestle around in dorm rooms. We have them here for two hours, what are they doing the other 22 hours? That’s something we’re going to be monitoring and watching and seeing how that works, but that is a concern as well because when they leave the facility, we don’t know what they’re doing.”