The Power 5 conferences are allowing their schools to follow new CDC guidelines with a shorter quarantine time for those in contact-tracing protocol, conference leaders tell Sports Illustrated.
Medical advisory groups in the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 have adopted or plan to adopt the new guidelines this week, but with a caveat that is leaving the playing field uneven: A school’s local health department has to have adopted the new guidelines. Some state and local health departments have done adopted the guidelines announced last week by the CDC while others have not — creating frustrations for programs attempting to complete a football season and begin a basketball season amid a pandemic.
Related: CDC's Reduced Quarantine Time Good News for Sports
As reported by SI, the CDC decreased the quarantine time for those considered high-risk contacts and who are asymptomatic from 14 days to 10 days, or seven days with a negative PCR test. A high-risk contact is anyone who is within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes of a person who tested positive without each party wearing a mask.
The process by which this is determined — referred to as contact tracing — has become the single biggest hurdle to playing college sports. Contact tracing has ensnared hundreds, if not thousands, of coaches and players for two-week-long quarantines that have resulted in very few positive tests. College officials estimate that the vast majority of players who have missed games this season were because of contact tracing, not positive tests. The players who do test positive often turn positive within a week’s time of quarantine. The CDC’s policy is to reflect emerging data that shows the majority of people testing positive within a week’s time of quarantine.
“By Day 7, if you haven’t turned positive, there’s a decent chance you aren’t going to test positive,” Chris Klenck, the Tennessee team physician who leads the school’s COVID program, told SI in October. “After Day 11, there’s almost no chance.”
The CDC news came 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.
Through Week 14 of the season, 113 games have been postponed or canceled, roughly 18 percent of those originally scheduled. More than 480 games have been played.
Despite the leagues’ adoption of the protocols, not all Power 5 member schools are following the new guidelines. Some are still adhering to the 14-day protocol while their local or state health departments explore adopting the change.