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Boise State: 4 COVID-19 cases among athletes, coaches and staff contributed to shutdown

The fight against COVID-19 remains an uphill battle for Boise State and numerous other athletic departments around the country.

BOISE, Idaho — It is hard to combat an opponent that you can't see.

And when you look at other collegiate athletic programs across the country, it seems as if positive COVID-19 test results are almost inevitable right now.

In the last week alone, Clemson reported 28 cases amongst 315 student-athletes that were tested for the virus. Kansas State had 14 of its own and temporarily shut down facilities. The Texas football program added 13 more, while schools like Alabama, Central Florida and Oklahoma State all had multiple cases as well.

Despite weeks of dialogue and planning, COVID-19 reminded Boise State just how difficult it will be to contain the virus on their own campus this week.

The university decided to shut down campus-owned facilities on Tuesday, following the news that eight individuals had tested positive for COVID-19.

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When you combined that number with the four student-athletes that also tested positive over the last month, Boise State decided it was time to act.

"Well, obviously, it's been a challenge, mostly because it's never happened before," said associated athletic director of health and wellness Marc Paul. "We know we're going to get positive [results]. Everybody is going to get some."

When it comes to athletics specifically, players, coaches, and staff members have slowly trickled back on to campus in phases during the month of June. The new protocol before returning to team activities is a negative COVID-19 test.

Should somebody test positive, Boise State then immediately mandates 14-days of self-isolation.

"Our focus has just been getting them back on campus and starting summer training," said Paul. "There's a lot going on. A lot of maintenance and a lot of monitoring."

In all the athletic department has tested between 230-250 individuals. Amongst that group, there were four individuals that tested positive for COVID-19.

"We've got a lot of people here and very few numbers," said Paul. "You guys can see what's coming out in the headlines. There schools with a heck of a lot higher numbers right now."

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Still, what is Boise State doing with those individuals that do test positive? How do they monitor the physical and mental health of athletes in self-isolation? Also, what new practices and protocols are they implementing and considering?

Sports director Jay Tust spoke with Paul to find out more about Boise State's plan to test, trace, and ultimately prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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JAY: Marc, yesterday's statement said the campus will remain closed until June 28, who decides if student-athletes can go back on campus on Monday? What does that procedure look like?

MARC: "A lot those guidelines those directions come from the campus in general and our President's Office. That process is really what we want to establish as far as parameters for coming back. Like, everybody will be re-tested. And when it's a campus-wide directive, that helps a lot, because it gives us the guidelines to go within. So, it's done in collaboration but ultimately comes from campus as to what we do."

JAY: When a student-athlete goes into quarantine after a positive test, what measures are being taken to make sure that they're OK physically as well as mentally?

MARC: "What we're doing when we're checking on them, it's a lot of tele-health with our team physicians, with our staff, our coaches are able to join in on those which is always nice. As far as the mental health piece, that's a major factor, and Stephanie Donaldson in our department has been really proactive in finding out what trends we're seeing in athletics and how can we combat it? How can we do a lot of those things to help these kids as they come home?"

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JAY: "So many of these guys, they live with each other, they have roommates. So if somebody tests positive, and they do live with other Boise State football players, what is the protocol there?

MARC: "One of the things we've actually started doing, (Jeff) Pittman, (Brandon) Pringle, and those guys in the weight room, we're doing some workouts by roommate, not just position group. If somebody comes up positive and we quarantine you, it's kind of like they're all going to be quarantined to a degree. Because you just have to kind of assume exposure at that point, they're in such close proximity. The ones that are coming in in the dorms, that's something we're working with on campuses."

JAY: Marc, for a student-athlete that might be more susceptible, let's say they have asthma or something like that, what additional measures are being taken for those athletes?

MARC: "A lot of times, the people who are more susceptible or more people outside of the athletic roster. We're going to have older staff members, or we might have somebody that's been around and has developed a medical condition of some kind, or even if we do have a student-athlete that has asthma or they have some sort of underlying internal organ issues where it's safe to play (normally), but this thing isn't going affect it."

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"That's a huge part of the education process: 'What could happen if you get exposed.' And then for people like myself, or another staff member that you know doesn't have to be in at work, we're going to work remotely as much as we can. And then this is a deal where everybody has a sense of personal responsibility. Just because you're a young college kid doesn't mean you get to just say 'I feel good.' No, this is on everybody to step up and take responsibility for it, including those people who might have an underlying medical condition."

JAY: When we talk about the challenges that are presented in this situation with COVID-19, yes, football is a contact sport, but something I think about is even mouthpieces. I played football growing up, you take your mouthpiece in and out probably 100 times during practice, then you touch a football. I mean it can really be that simple. So, what is your biggest concern, and you have any protocol right now for mouthpieces?

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MARC: "We're coming up with protocols as we speak for all the equipment. The footballs alone, how often do those need to be disinfected? What are we doing with water? The best analogy I heard was on a call the other day. He goes, 'I feel like I'm building the airplane as I fly it.'"

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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