Playing it safe

By Angelo Vansant

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in PULSE, which is published by the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication’s Magazine Production class for Hofstra University students and residents of surrounding communities.

Squat racks spread six feet apart. Exercise equipment piled up on the folded bleachers. A socially distant exercise circuit that flows safely for the athletes. Hofstra University’s athletic department has made a makeshift workout area on the second floor of the David S. Mack Arena to ensure social distancing.

Nathan Drickamer, a senior men’s lacrosse player, uses this makeshift space to exercise safely alongside his teammates.

“When we’re in practice standing around, or when we are inside, our masks are on,” Drickamer said.

Nathan Drickamer, a senior men’s lacrosse player at Hofstra University. // Photo courtesy of Hofstra Chronicle Sports.

When athletes are practicing, gaiters are worn on the athletes’ necks for quick mask coverage. During reps, athletes pull down their gaiters, face coverings that are similar to those worn by cowboys on dusty trails. Once their reps are over, they must cover their noses and mouths again.

This is not a normal season for the lacrosse team. It has had to adapt. “The entire team isn’t allowed in the locker room all at once,” Drickamer said, “but I’m happy we’re still able to play.”

Following guidelines set forth by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York State Department of Health, National Collegiate Athletic Association and each individual school, athletes have slowly been allowed to return to their respective sports.

“We have been following all the guidelines that have been given for us to compete,” said Jay Artinian, Hofstra University’s deputy director of athletics and chief revenue officer. “We feel as long as we do that, we are doing everything possible to keep the general students, our staff, athletes, the teams we’re playing and the community safe.”

Hofstra athletes’ first step to returning to practice started with conditioning for one hour twice a week in October for two weeks. The next step, in mid-October, was three hours a week of conditioning for two weeks, followed by hour-long non-contact practices in November. Full-contact practices started at the end of fall, with three workouts a week.

Hofstra and Stony Brook University allow athletes to remove their masks when in action during practice, but masks must be worn on the sidelines. Additionally, Pride members must wear gaiters when practicing outside.

Tyler Stephenson-Moore, a sophomore men’s basketball player at Stony Brook University

Hofstra requires a Covid-19 test for each team member before every game. Twenty-five to 50 percent of athletes are also randomly selected for testing during a two-week span. Athletes can be tested up to two times during that time. Covid-19 tests are required by SBU for all student athletes two times a week.

“We don’t have to shut down a team due to a single positive test,” said Shawn Helibron, SBU’s athletics director. Stony Brook University has partnered with Stony Brook University Hospital, and every positive test is reported to the medical staff and head athletic trainer. Campus Health is notified, and then the state health department.

Stony Brook University Hospital advises the university to use contact tracing and to quarantine and isolate students without shutting an entire athletic team down. Roommates are quarantined and monitored immediately. Athletes who were near a positive individual are required to quarantine, as well.

Contact tracing has allowed programs to keep practicing without having to quarantine a team for two weeks.“We take the information and try to act as quickly as we can,” Helibron said.

Hofstra takes a different approach. “Each institution does it differently, depending on their medical partner, and it’s not to say [they are] right or wrong, but everyone is getting advice from their medical partner,” Artinian said.

Northwell Health is Hofstra University’s medical partner. Northwell officials have advised the university to shut down a team for two weeks if an athlete tests positive for Covid-19.

Hofstra’s medical staff will speak with the opposing team’s staff if the other team has a positive case, but has chosen not to shut down a game. Hofstra medical staff will ask why the program is moving forward with the competition, despite the positive test. Hofstra staff want to know who tested positive and which team members have been in contact with the player in question to determine if it is safe to travel and take part in a competition.

“For us, it’s health and safety first, period,” Artinian said.

Hofstra and SBU both take part in out-of-state away games. Each program follows the advice of their medical partners and the state health department. Both universities require all athletes to be tested 72 hours before departure from the university.

When on the road, teams only go from the bus to the hotel, the competition venue and back. There is no eating at restaurants, only take-out. “Our student athletes are making sacrifices to stop the spread,” Helibron said.

Andrew Ledbetter, a Stony Brook University freshman baseball player training at a safe distance from his teammates while wearing a face covering. // Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics.

A positive test after 48 hours of an ended game must be reported to the opposing team. And the opposing team that came to New York must fill out an out of station form, explaining how Covid-19 was transmitted, within 24 hours of the positive test for any team that came into New York State. The NCAA guidelines leave it up to each state for quarantine regulation.

A positive test after an away game results in the program shutting down. Hofstra then isolates and puts the positive athletes in quarantine.

Hofstra and SBU athletic officials have reassured the public that their programs are not spreading Covid-19 within their communities. Coaches ask teammates to bond, but to stay within the team pods in case someone tests positive.

“Transmission is not happening from a result of competition. It’s happening in social settings and gatherings of the home,” Helibron said.

SBU cannot regulate what the athletes do outside the facilities, but athletes are recommended not to go out in public unless necessary. On top of that, Stony Brook advises that teammates do not hang out with one another outside of practice, knowing that multiple positive tests can shut the program down temporarily.

“This is a very hard time to be a college student, let alone a college student athlete,” Helibron said.