Football: A Discussion with Ron Courson over COVID-19 concerns & return to play

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Football: A Discussion with Ron Courson over COVID-19 concerns & return to play

Nick Chubb and Ron Courson chat prior to Kirby Smart camp day 2
Nick Chubb and Ron Courson chat (Photo: Greg Poole/Bulldawg Illustrated)

The Georgia football program will start fall camp next week and will have all players accounted for.

According to UGA Associate Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Ron Courson, no players have decided to opt-out due to concerns over the coronavirus.

“There have been no opt-outs at this point, but they understand they have that option, and they have the right to make an informed decision,” Courson said to UGA beat writers on Friday. “If they opted out, they would obviously keep their scholarship intact just like any athlete here.”

Courson met with reporters Friday for approximately 25 minutes via Zoom, following the SEC’s announcement earlier in the day about the COVID-19 medical protocols that have been administered by the league.

For the past couple of months, Courson has been in charge of the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force that has been working closely with league administrators.

Courson was asked about how confident he is that football will in fact happen and he replied, “We’re as confident as we can be.”

“The message you have to look at here is, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. We can’t do everything, but what we can do is to keep it as safe as we can within a safe environment,” he said. “I believe we have done everything we can do to be safe. But you have to continually reassess, because things change, and you have to be flexible.

“The way I look at it, I have four kids; if I didn’t feel it was safe for them to be out here, they wouldn’t be out there now. I do think we can be safe, but we have to be very prudent in what we do; very deliberate, but we also have to be flexible.”

Jonathan Ledbetter (13) getting treatment from Ron Courson against Vanderbilt in 2018.
Jonathan Ledbetter (13) getting treatment from Ron Courson against Vanderbilt in 2018.

Mask Rules

According to league’s new rules, all coaches, staff members, and players not actually in the game have to be wearing a mask at all times.

Courson expressed that he doesn’t think this will be an issue.

“What we want to do is, if you are not competing, we want you to have a mask on,” Courson said. “Obviously having a mask does impede your ability to breathe effectively so like if you’re on the sideline and you’re not in the game, you’re expected to have a mask pulled up over your mouth and nose.

“The same thing . . . really anybody on the grass—coaches, sports medicine staff, and so forth. The athletes will have a gaiter, so they will have the capability to, when they are in the game, they can have it pulled down. If they are out of the game, they can pull it up. But obviously, they may be hydrating on the sideline, too, so it cannot be up all the time. We’re just trying to do as much risk mitigation as we can.”

Testing and Results

The conference says it will test football players on Sundays and Wednesdays, and is pursuing rapid testing that can be done as close to the game as possible. This makes it sound like the idea is to test on Friday before the team either heads on the road or isolates at a hotel before home games.

“We feel that having the capability to have a rapid diagnostic test before we left on Friday would, one, give you a shorter testing window of 24 hours before the game and it would also eliminate the possibility of taking somebody on the road who was positive,” Courson said.

He also said that if a player reports feeling symptoms while on the road that they can receive a rapid test.

The testing will be done by a third party and it will be the same lab for evert conference school, according to Courson. He also said this is being done so teams can’t lie about positive tests.

Courson then explained what would happen if a player was to test positive.

“If we have a positive, the first thing you have to do is isolate them for their protection and everyone else,” he said. “We have an isolation protocol. Then you must communicate with the department of public health. We also must communicate with the university as well.

“It’s really important to understand that we’re a part of the bigger university so we’re working in conjunction with the health department and the university health center to make sure our protocols are meshing with them. We’re overlapping well.”

Courson also explained that once a player tests positive they will forced to participate in follow-up tests. They include antibody tests, lab and an extensive cardiac test before athletes meet with the team physician, cardiologist, and infectious disease physician.

“Right now, we sort of outline the protocol. On a positive test, you’re out 10 days. That’s the CDC guidelines and the state department of health. If you’re symptomatic, it’s 10 days from the onset of symptoms,” Courson said. “If you are asymptomatic, it’s 10 days from a positive test. They’re isolated throughout that time. We don’t let them exercise during that time. That’s different from an exposure. We allow them to exercise. From a positive test, we want to be safe with everything we do, and we’re trying to base everything we do on evidence-based medical science.”

Contact Tracing

He said that contact tracing will be done as well.

“The reason for contact tracing is to try to minimize your risk. The general definition of a high exposure is, somebody who is within six feet for longer than 15 minutes. So, if that person reaches the definition of high exposure, they must be quarantined,” Courson said. “Right now, the rules of the CDC and the department of public health is to quarantine for 14 days. They can do exercise, because they don’t have a positive test.

“Now anybody who is exposed, we automatically put them in our testing protocol immediately, and then we put them into quarantine. It’s important that we do that. So again, we want to communicate with our athletes and make sure they don’t feel like they’re at risk either.”

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.