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Spring sports kick off with new COVID-19 rules

Some students say the College’s on-boarding testing protocols were sometimes confusing. Photo by Andrew Tucker.

The return of competition on April 17 for Pioneer Athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic brings a host of new rules and regulations for spectating games, adequately testing student-athletes and conducting overnight travel.

Student-athletes during Spring Term 2 – regardless of if they are fully-vaccinated or not – are required to be tested for COVID-19 each Thursday prior to competitions, most of which occur on Saturdays. Because the NCAA mandates that competitors receive a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of any athletic competition, testing conducted on Thursdays will not count for competition occurring between Sunday and the following Wednesday. On those days, Student Health and Wellness (SHAW) will conduct rapid antigen testing the morning of competition.

Additionally, due to the close contact between athletes that occurs while traveling on buses to away-games, every athlete and coach will receive rapid antigen testing and symptom checks prior to leaving Grinnell.

If a student does test positive on the Thursday prior to competition, then standard Grinnell College contact-tracing will occur. Sometimes, this will mean that many other members of the team will be placed into isolation if the infected student determines that other members of their sports team were within frequent and close contact with them. However, College policy does not require students to be placed into isolation exclusively for being on the same team as a student who tests positive.

If a student tests positive the morning of competition via rapid antigen testing, only that student would be removed from competition, since each other student would have received a negative test at the same time as the positive student.

Because COVID-19 transmission may be easier during sports practices due to the physical proximity required, some coaches have decided to further separate students within practices. For example, both men’s and women’s track-and-field practices have separated distance runners from sprinters to prevent COVID-19 transmission from one ‘bubble’ to the other.

Staying overnight for multi-day competitions is not allowed per requirements by the Midwestern Conference. While most competitions for spring sports are single-day, some are not; the Midwest Conference South Division Championship for men’s and women’s track-and-field in Monmouth, IL spans May 14 to May 15, for example. For track athletes, this means waking up, driving three hours to Monmouth, competing and then driving three hours back – only to wake up and do the same the very next day.

While at competition, masks and physical distancing of six feet or more are required for athletes and coaches while on the sidelines, but not during the competition itself.

“For example, for baseball, when an athlete is in the dugout, they’re masked and distanced from their teammates. But when they’re in the outfield, they can be unmasked,” said Andy Hamilton, director of athletics and recreation at the College.

Hamilton also added that students may opt-in to wearing a mask while competing if they want to. Additionally, student athletes and coaches are allowed to opt-out of attending competitions if they perceive the risk of in contacting COVID-19 to be too high.

Only Grinnell College faculty, staff and students will be allowed to spectate at home games. Family members of faculty and staff may also attend, but family members of student-athletes will not be allowed entry and must instead view the event via a College-sponsored webcast.

No concessions will be provided, and the College asks that spectators refrain from bringing food to the stands. Masks and social distancing are required.

Full spectator policy can be found on the Pioneer Athletics website.

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Nina Baker
Nina Baker, Staff Writer
Nina Baker is a fourth-year Russian major with a Russian, Central European and Eurasian Studies concentration from Lakeville, Minnesota. When she's not reporting for The Scarlet & Black, she loves taking long walks, reading, and learning foreign languages.
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