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‘We’re running the play that was called’: Virginia Tech athletics outlines COVID-19 measures

'Preseason or out of season, we’re testing more than what the ACC is recommending right now...'

Virginia Tech focusing on testing student-athletes, keeping community safe
Virginia Tech focusing on testing student-athletes, keeping community safe

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Virginia Tech held a Zoom call on Wednesday featuring Athletics Director Whit Babcock and Chief Medical Officer of Virginia Tech Athletics, Mark Rogers. The two discussed safety measures the University is taking to ensure the health and safety of its student-athletes.

Rogers outlined that upon return to Blacksburg, each student-athlete is given a test. A follow-up test is administered 2 weeks later. For sports that are in preseason or off-season workouts, such as football, a concentrated surveillance model is being followed, meaning that a percentage of athletes will be tested throughout. When it’s time for competition, all student-athletes and staff will be tested 3 days prior to games. Whit Babcock says there are upwards of 250 student-athletes currently in Blacksburg.

The ACC recommended weekly testing when season begins. Rogers feels it’s an appropriate measure.

“Preseason or out of season, we’re testing more than what the ACC is recommending right now and I think that’s appropriate as well,” Rogers said. “Part of the education piece is to try and minimize any sort of travel especially the higher risk COVID areas which several of our student-athletes are from...But at some point, if they need to get home with their families, we want to support that in a safe manner.”

In response to a report that some student-athletes were in Myrtle Beach, which was deemed a hotspot for COVID-19, both Rogers and Babcock said they aren’t aware of an exact number of those who may have traveled and when.

Dr. Rogers says the University has maintained enough supplies to administer tests for all student-athletes. The turnaround time on results has been around 72 hours and in some cases even in 48 hours. If a positive test comes back, contact tracing will begin along with isolation or quarantine measures.

Virginia Tech has also stressed the importance of educating student-athletes on safety measures to take when away from facilities.

“We’ve had some videos go out. We’ve had some Zoom calls, reminders around when big weekends are coming up. Our education team has put reminders out about face masks and physically distancing and washing hands. It’s a consistent message they’ve had since they’ve been on campus and a lot of that even before campus,” said Rogers.

The concern moving forward is when tens of thousands of students return for classes in Blacksburg.

“The biggest concern is the population. Virginia Tech campus has a good plan of getting people back to classes and mitigating risks. Hopefully our student-athletes have had enough education,” Rogers said.

And with football in particular, Rogers mentioned that they’ve been working closely with Virginia Tech engineering in designing enhanced face shields for players’ helmets. They won’t be mandatory, but rather, voluntary.

When asked if he’s satisfied with the level of testing, Whit Babcock said, “We’re running the play that was called as best practices and we go a little above and beyond what the requirements are so while we’re all anxious and watching it, I don’t know what we can do better.”

In terms of whether fans will be in Lane Stadium this upcoming season, Babcock said, “It could be it could be no fans, certainly that’s not optimal. Potentially up to 50% I believe we talked a week or two ago with our campus team health officials etc. we would probably land somewhere on 30 to 36% capacity. The suites we may do differently where that would be at your own risk and people could decide how many they want up there but we have to be careful with that language but that’s how we’re looking at it now.”

Virginia Tech's Whit Babcock on outlook of fans in Lane Stadium in 2020
Virginia Tech's Whit Babcock on outlook of fans in Lane Stadium in 2020

Virginia Tech is close to locking down its out-of-conference opponent, but contract negotiations are still in talks. The ACC will release it’s schedule on Thursday, Aug. 6 at 9 a.m.

About the Author:

Eric is no stranger to the Roanoke Valley. He is a Roanoke native and proud graduate of William Fleming High School.