'It's imperative we do the things that help every group not get sick' says LSU's Mullenix

Glenn Guilbeau
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
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Jan 13, 2020; New Orleans, Louisiana, USA; LSU Tigers head coach Ed Orgeron reacts against the Clemson Tigers second quarter in the College Football Playoff national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

BATON ROUGE — Football may be different in 2020 because of COVID-19, but it is close enough to smell — even with a mask — for LSU coach Ed Orgeron.

"I woke up and smelled that special air in Baton Rouge," Orgeron said on ESPN Radio 104.5 FM here on Tuesday after his players reported. "It feels like football season. I'm so excited to have our players working out. They stayed in great shape, and I'm so proud of them. It's like Christmas, having the whole family back together."

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Approximately 105 to 110 LSU football players were tested in small groups from Tuesday through Thursday for the virus as they returned to campus for conditioning and other workouts. Any positive results given to state health officials are kept private, according to national health standards. LSU athletic trainers and staff also have been constantly monitoring and screening for any symptoms related to COVID-19.

LSU football coaches and other staff members were tested in recent days before Tuesday.

"LSU team physicians have been on the front lines of the virus in local hospital emergency rooms and are well versed on the identification, referral, and treatment aspects of COVID-19," LSU associate athletic director for health and wellness Shelly Mullenix said.

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In the event of a positive or presumptive positive test, LSU quarantines those athletes in isolation rooms and works "collaboratively and confidentially with our tracers to mimimize unintentional viral spread," said Mullenix, who has been with LSU's training staff since 1992.

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The LSU football team has had the flu and food poisoning spread throughout the team over the years, and the basketball team suffered a rash of chicken pox cases in the 1985-86 season. But Mullenix obviously has never seen anything like the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's novel," she said last week on LSU's official Twitter account. "It's a new virus. We just don't know. But you can't win anything if you don't understand who your opponent is."

LSU went 15-0 last season and won the school's fourth national championship, but beating COVID-19 may be more difficult than wins over Alabama and Clemson last season.

"If we want to be champions, whether it was champions for the day in getting through the day, or all the way to being national champions, you really have to be the healthiest," Mullenix said. "It's really about who was going to fall into line quickest with the rules."

LSU's COVID-19 Prevention Plan:

  • limited entry to athletic facilities to essential staff with strict and daily screening for athletes and essential staff before entry with temperature checks via newly installed scanners and Center for Disease Control screenings.
  • all facilities are being disinfected multiple times daily and after equipment use.
  • hand washing and disinfecting stations have been placed throughout facilities.
  • masks are required in all public areas of LSU athletic facilities.
  • meals are pre-boxed for to-go orders, and the Performance Nutrition Center seating is modified according to public health guidelines.
  • all gear and towels will be left at the facility so that the equipment managers can utilize specialized detergents and heat settings to kill virus and bacteria.
  • athletic training areas have isolation rooms for student-athletes who report with any illness or viral symptoms.
  • physicians are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist in the evaluation and referral to our local medical providers.
  • a primary point of focus is on physical distancing during practices and workouts as staff have developed innovative ways to work out, practice, and conduct meetings in small rotating groups for maximized social distancing.

"We're all wearing masks, which is different," Orgeron said. "But it's the new norm, and that's what we're going to do."

LSU coaches and trainers are also expected to pay more attention to minor health issues than normally.

"This is not a time to tell kids to suck it up," Mullenix said. "We want to hear if they've got a sore throat. We want to hear if they've got an upset stomach. We want to hear about their headaches, because the physicians have to be part of that decision as to whether or not you're safe to return to the pack."

Mullenix, like Orgeron, is ready for some football.

"We will have football," she said."But it's imperative that we do the things that will help every group of citizens not get sick. And sports is on of those citizen groups."

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