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CDC's Reduced Quarantine Time Good News for Sports

Paul Steinbach

The CDC plans to shorten by half its mandatory quarantine time for those who come into close contact with a COVID-19 positive, according to a report from The Associated Press. High-risk contacts who are asymptomatic can now return to normal activity after 10 days or leave quarantine after the seventh day with a negative test.

Current CDC guidelines recommend high-risk contacts, whether they are symptomatic or not, to quarantine for 14 days without any ability to test out.

“We had heard this may be happening,” Shane Lyons, the West Virginia athletic director who sits on the NCAA DI Council, told Sports Illustrated. “This is big news, especially for basketball season and as we finish play in football the next month and a half.”

The CDC news comes with just two weeks remaining in college football’s regular season—a point of frustration for some around college sports. Many athletic physicians have known for weeks that the CDC guidelines were overly cautious.

“It’s probably two months too late,” said one team doctor. “It’s a shame. We knew this a while ago.”

The change could significantly benefit college basketball, which has seen dozens of games already impacted over the first week of the season. Basketball games and practices are held indoors, with longer stretches of close contact among players than seen in football.

Related: Syracuse's Boeheim Calls for Contact Tracing Changes

That said, initial contact-tracing rules wreaked havoc on college football programs. The Southeastern Conference had to postpone four of its seven games scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 14 despite the fact that just one of five SEC teams had more than five positives.

“Candidly,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said that week, “the numbers around contact tracing have emerged as one of our biggest challenges to playing.” Contact tracing “magnifies” any positive, Sankey said then, and he suggested that only a change in CDC recommendations could result in an adjustment to the quarantine rule.

As reported by SI, the CDC change does not impact the recommended isolation time of 10 days for those who test positive. All conferences adhere to that same protocol except the Big Ten, which requires all players who test positive to miss 21 days. That regulation is tied to heart-related protocols, some of which physicians believe is unnecessary for those who are mildly symptomatic or asymptomatic.

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