UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt talks COVID testing as football season nears
Alnutt discusses cost per test and new COVID prevention guidelines
UB will spend roughly $28,968 a week COVID testing its 118 football players, 11 coaches and 13 supporting staff members following the Mid-American Conference’s new testing requirements.
UB’s football team will now be required to test all players, coaches and staff members four times a week. If the team reaches a positive test rate of 5% or higher, its season will be paused immediately.
UB Athletic Director Mark Alnutt says the MAC secured a contract with the clinical laboratory Quest Diagnostics and tests cost $51 each. Quest Diagnostics will administer the tests.
The MAC announced its decision to hold a shortened fall football season Sept. 25, but only four days later, UB announced 25 student-athletes — including 19 football players — tested positive for COVID.
The news immediately brought the possible actions of UB football players and the teams' COVID testing protocols into question.
Alnutt says these positive cases were discovered as a part of UB’s surveillance testing — which consisted of testing about 25% to 50% of teams' rosters once every two weeks — but surveillance testing will be replaced with the MAC’s new testing protocol.
“We understand the [testing] expense, but we feel that we have to do that in order to participate in sports,” Alnutt said. “That’s a burden that we all have to take but I feel that it’s definitely worth that cost to ensure the healthcare of our student-athletes, our staff and coaches to interact with them and also the rest of the campus and community population.”
Per MAC protocol, a team must pause football activities if 5% or more of the roster tests positive. Since the team wouldn’t be allowed to practice for two weeks, any significant spikes in positive tests would severely damper UB’s ability to play football this season. And with the season just a month away, Alnutt says an outbreak within the team would “put the season in jeopardy.”
Nineteen UB football players tested positive last week, representing just under 17% of the teams' roster, far higher than the MAC’s 5% threshold. If numbers of this magnitude persist closer to the seasons Nov. 4 start date, UB’s season will be paused. While these numbers are alarming, Alnutt says the school hasn’t set a specific threshold of positive tests that could end the football season.
“[We] haven’t really set the limit in terms of what that percentage might be but understand that, 5% of a roster in our case may be seven guys,” Aluntt said. “That would be the positive threshold where we would have to pause. That’s a small number, but also associated with that seven you would also understand, through contact tracing, that more than seven would be out as well.”
Twenty-five UB student-athletes tested positive last week, with five women's volleyball players and one women's soccer player receiving positive results on top of the football teams' 19 positive tests. Alnutt said the university has placed a strong emphasis on educating its student-athletes on mitigating the spread of the virus whether they are at the athletic facilities or at home.
Alnutt also says SUNY’s new behavioral guidelines will be strictly enforced and each sports programs directors met Sunday to review SUNY’s new protocols and reaffirm what precautions must be taken in order to participate in athletics.
“It’s important to understand what are ways to prevent this,” Alnutt said. “What’s out there from SUNY and also our institution is that if you don’t abide by [the rules,] there’s going to be harsh penalties associated with it, whether it’s being banned from campus housing or academics or even athletic activity.”