Athletics Department upholds firm COVID-19 protocols

Huskins Field is pictured on Aug. 8, 2020. Nicole Garay / The Tufts Daily Archives

Prior to a Friday, Sept. 17 volleyball game between Tufts and Connecticut College, a Connecticut player tested positive for COVID-19. No Tufts athletes tested positive after the game.

Although it is unknown whether or not the player was vaccinated, Tufts varsity teams are only permitted to play schools with a vaccine mandate according to John Morris, the university’s director of athletics

“With vaccines being widely available, a new protocol for this year is a policy of scheduling games only against institutions that require vaccinations (or requiring a waiver from the Tufts medical staff if we face an opponent that doesn’t mandate vaccinations),” Morris wrote in an email to the Daily. 

Because of the vaccine mandate for Tufts athletes and their opponents alike, the quarantine procedures in the case of a positive COVID-19 test are vastly different from last year. Lucas Ferrer, a linebacker for the Tufts football team, hasn’t found the guidelines to be a problem thus far. 

At the end of the day, I feel like everyone’s really grateful to have the opportunity to play right now, [so] we’ll accept the inconveniences [of COVID-19 protocols] and just keep moving forward,” Ferrer, a junior, said. 

Most of the procedures that the athletic department is following align with the overall policies of the university, the conference and NCAA guidelines. Morris said that his colleagues in athletics have done an excellent job in minimizing the effects of COVID-19 among sports teams.

“Like last year, our Athletics staff, coaches and student-athletes are following the COVID protocols issued by the University, the NESCAC and the NCAA,” Morris said. “We are pleased that our sports medicine team has been able to monitor very closely the twice-per-week testing of student-athletes to support the university’s efforts to identify positive cases early and help reduce spread.”

Women’s Volleyball Head Coach Cora Thompson found that despite the situation the team faced while playing Connecticut, the protocols in place were effective in ensuring the game could be played without sacrificing the safety of the players and staff. 

“When situations like this come up, the directors of Sport Medicine on both campuses directly connect about the concern at hand and make sure to agree with a plan that complies not only with institutional policies but also conference policies,” Thompson wrote in an email to the Daily

Specifically for the volleyball team, Tufts policies differ, as it is the only fall sport to be played indoors. However, masking rules can become slightly ambiguous depending on the opponents.

“The NESCAC conference has agreed that we can play ‘NBA style’ meaning players on the court can be mask free if they choose but the full coaching staff, bench and support staff … and fans … must remain masked full time,” Thompson said. “As a general guideline this year, the institution with the most restrictive COVID policy will be the school that determines game day protocol.”

For Ferrer, missing game and practice time is a big risk with the current protocols. However, he said that it’s necessary to keep the community safe.

“And also, if anyone gets sick, COVID or non-COVID, they’re not allowed to participate in practice or anything like that,” Ferrer said. “I feel like everyone’s doing their job, trying to make sure that everyone stays safe.”

For Thompson, many of the protocols in place are dependent on the players staying safe and making the right decisions off the court. 

“During this pandemic our actions directly affect our teammates, coaches and support staff so we are having to be more mindful than we have ever had to be with our social choices and off campus exposure decisions,” Thompson said. “Our health and well-being is tied closer together than it has ever been and that is a challenge.”

So far this fall, Tufts has been able to minimize the effect of COVID-19 on in-season teams, but the same cannot be said for its opponents. On Saturday, Sept. 25, the Tufts field hockey team had a game against Colby College canceled due to COVID-19 cases in Colby’s program.

Overall, there is a sense of gratitude from the fall sports programs, as they lost their entire season to COVID-19 last year. 

“At the end of the day, we are so grateful to have our good health while practicing and competing so you won’t hear many complaints from us at all,” Thompson said.

As winter sports approach, the question remains of how Tufts will continue to limit the spread of COVID-19 in its athletic department, despite all sports moving indoors. Morris said that the best way forward is to continue following the guidance of the university.

“Athletics will continue to follow the guidance of the campus medical professionals when it comes to indoor winter sports,” Morris said. “At this point, we anticipate that everyone in the indoor venues … will be required to wear face coverings at all times, except for the vaccinated competitors while actively warming up and competing.”