Football’s return to the Florida campus is almost complete. Most of the players are back, most have already been tested and screened for the coronavirus and almost all are back lifting weights and getting started in the summer conditioning program.
It’s been, and will continue to be, a long, gradual process getting to Sept. 5 and the opening of the season, but the Gators are off to a favorable start.
At this point, 87 players are back on campus and have gone through testing and none have tested positive for COVID-19, associate director of sports health and men’s basketball trainer Dave Werner said Tuesday.
“We have tested 87, and 80 of the results have come back (negative) and seven are still pending,” he said.
Those seven outstanding test results should be in by Wednesday.
So, the Gators are off to a healthy start. The goal now is to keep them protected. UF has a plan in place for a safe return, not just for football players, but for all student-athletes and staff. Soccer and volleyball players start making their return Monday. Men’s and women’s basketball players begin their migration back a week after that.
The football players are already seeing that it’s a whole different world now with this pandemic. It includes testing and screening, social distancing, working out in small groups, increased sanitation practices, workouts by appointment only, no access to the locker room and wearing face covering, along with coaches, in meetings and around campus.
Maybe the biggest change is the weight room. It’s basically been moved to the Indoor Practice Facility, where weights and weight machines line the west sideline and the garage doors are open, bringing fresh air and an outdoor feel to lifting sessions.
And natural social distancing.
“I feel like this is the biggest thing we have done to increase safety of our athletes,” Werner said. “As far as I know we are the only one in our league that has taken that precaution. With dealing with our infectious control people and our infectious disease physicians, the likelihood of transmission of the virus is much less outside.
“We’re able to open up those doors, the garage doors, and come up with an outdoor area to train. The risk really decreases with that.”
The workout routine is definitely much different.
There will be daily screenings, temperatures taken and a questionnaire to fill out before every workout. With the locker rooms shut down, players will arrive already dressed and will have a towel and water bottle. They will wash their hands before entering and when they leave.
Workouts will be in smaller groups and are by appointment only.
“Our groups will be much smaller than they have been in the past,” Werner said. “Historically, with football we had lifting groups with anywhere from 35 to 40. This summer those groups will be more in the 20 to 25 range, so it’s half the amount of people we usually have in there.
“That is for our need to keep our social distancing. You’ve all heard the six-foot rule. We’re going with the six-foot rule in the weight room. That’s important for us, that’s important for how we’re moving forward to mitigate the risks for our athletes.
“Their times in the weight room will all be by appointment only. There will be a group, let’s say from 8 to 9 o’clock, that will be their time. There’s no coming back at 3 o’clock in the afternoon or at 2 to get some work in. They’re in there by appointment only.”
Along with following the guidelines for a safe return, there’s been an ongoing educational process for players, coaches, staff and parents.
“The important thing here, I want everyone to understand and I know it’s important to our administration. If an athlete or an athlete’s parent does not feel comfortable with their son or daughter coming back this summer because of anxieties of the virus or worry about the virus, they’re not coming back.
“There are worries and there are anxieties from people around the country about coming back to a college campus. We really spent a lot of time on how COVID-19 spreads, how it can affect athletes individually if they contacted the virus, we’ve spent an enormous amount of time educating not only our student-athletes, but spent time with parents. We want to make sure that they feel good about coming back to campus.”
So far, so good.
UF had two athletes test positive for COVID-19, but that was before the testing and screening process was started at the school. One was in April, the other is for an athlete that is not on campus yet.
None of the football players have tested positive in their return. UF is aware that could, and likely will, change at some point during this return to campus for student-athletes, said Stacey Higgins, UF’s associate athletic director for sports health.
“(Werner) and I are both health professionals and we realize we are going to have to live with Covid,” Higgins said. “We’re going to have positive cases to deal with. That is something we’re going to have to be ready to deal with. We are going to have to live with Covid, to be sure.”
There have been reports of positive tests at other college football programs across the country, including Alabama, where five players recently were positive for COVID-19.
“I think our reaction is that it could be any of us,” Higgins said. “We’re all testing our athletes as we return to campus. As we’re testing people and they’re coming back, that could happen everywhere. Everyone is doing some form of testing as their athletes are coming back. I think we’re very fortunate that the football athletes we’ve tested so far have been negative. I just think that’s where we are right now. It could have been any of us.”
UF likely will have to deal with positive tests at some point in some sports. There is a plan in place to deal with those and prevent spreading.
“If an athlete gets ill, the first thing they’re going to do is contact their athletic trainer and get them immediately to one of our team physicians,” Werner said. “At that point, we’re going to follow everything that UF Health is telling us to do as far as the tracing program and moving forward to help mitigate the spread of the virus. That’s really our whole goal in this whole thing. If there are positives, we want to mitigate the fact of it spreading. And we believe everything we have put in place at this point will help do that.”