After an up-and-down fall sports season with COVID-19, Boise State’s winter season has been far more stable.
Associate Athletic Director for Health and Wellness Marc Paul says the department has conducted more than 12,000 PCR COVID-19 tests since athletes began returning to campus late last spring.
“Some of the policies we wrote a year ago aren't even applicable now,” he said. “We're constantly updating and changing.”
The evolution of the process has helped the department’s test positivity rate improve from 3.9% in September to 1.5% currently, Paul said, while noting results fluctuate weekly based on factors like travel, scheduling, holidays and other social events outside the department.
“If you look at the numbers in other parts of the country, that's actually a pretty good number,” he said.
Fewer active teams during the winter season doesn’t hurt, but out-of-season athletes still train and meet in athletic facilities. Even among teams, athletes are siloed into small groups to keep any potential exposure to a minimum.
On the University’s COVID-19 testing dashboard, the ‘Mountain West’ category has not listed a positive test result for several weeks, but those tests account for only a fraction of the total tests being administered.
“Testing has actually gone up from pre-season in the fall,” Paul said. “We're doing three a week, sometimes four, depending on where [athletes'] schedules are. As we get closer to the end of season and the tournaments are coming, we'll probably start doing some form of testing daily.”
Boise State athletics uses a combination of rapid antigen tests and live virus PCR tests on athletes, staff and gameday visitors like officials. Some COVID-19 protocols come from the NCAA or Mountain West Conference, others are based on recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local officials at Central District Health.
Advice is also available from athletic training peers from across the country. Paul joins regular conference calls with medical staff from the Mountain West Conference and across the country.
He said schools are all doing a version of the same thing.
"So you take the experiences of other schools, especially if they're a little bit ahead of where you are. Nobody's just ever taken the time to do that before. It's been really beneficial.”
And there’s still more learning to come. The men’s basketball program had to pause team activities for two days in January due to an inconclusive test result the team announced as a false positive. The sample was rerun and basketball resumed, and COVID-19 protocols operated as designed.
“It's become just part of the routine,” said Paul. “Our student athletes understand what contact tracing looks like, and our coaches understand that we may lose a kid not because of injury, but because of [COVID-19].”
“We still have positive tests,” he said. “It's not going anywhere. It's still here.”
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