Study: NCAA’s COVID-19 Mitigation Tactics Worked

recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates mitigation measures taken during the past two years by NCAA member schools have worked.

A group of Stanford researchers conducted the first known study investigating the difference in COVID-19 test positivity between college athletes and nonathletes at schools across the country. What they found was participation in college sports was not associated with increased test positivity in student-athletes compared with nonathlete students. In fact, they found the majority of schools studied had decreased test positivity among student-athletes.

mitigationDr. Calvin Hwang, clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and team physician at Stanford, co-authored the study, which initially looked at available data from schools throughout the five autonomous conferences. Researchers cast a wide net, since campus and local health directives vary, before settling on 12 Division I schools with the most complete set of publicly available data.

“We wanted to see across the country do athletes, in general, have higher test positivity rates compared to nonathletes or are they actually potentially protected against infection based on some of the guidelines the NCAA has laid out to allow for the safe resumption of sport?” Hwang said.

The study found that student-athletes did not have an increased risk of a COVID-19 infection compared with other students. At nine schools, student-athletes showed a decreased positivity compared with other students. The COVID-19 mitigation strategies implemented by the NCAA and individual schools and conferences may have impacted the results.

“This was a little bit surprising to us, but it really goes to show the likely protective effect the NCAA mitigation (guidance) in place last year had on preventing COVID infection within the student-athlete population,” Hwang said.

Hwang is scheduled to appear on the NCAA Social Series streaming Wednesday with Dr. Catherine O’Neal, assistant professor of medicine in the section of infectious diseases at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine’s Branch Campus in Baton Rouge, and Dr. Brian Hainline, NCAA chief medical officer. The three medical professionals will discuss the research findings and how college sports have navigated COVID-19.

O’Neal and Hainline both point to the collaboration with campus medical staffs across the country as being key to the success of mitigation efforts.

O’Neal serves on the Southeastern Conference’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, a group created to guide the SEC’s decisions surrounding COVID-19. She highlighted the group’s focus on what’s best for student-athletes and taking one day at a time. As the pandemic has proven, once you think you know something for sure, circumstances change, and it’s time to reevaluate.

“So be ready for change … because I think when you try to tell the future in a pandemic, you often end up being wrong,” O’Neal said. “(Student-athletes) are the core. Making sure they’re safe. And if they can be safe, they can play. It worked out for us, but I think that’s a lot of luck and a lot of cooperation between good leaders.”

To read the full report from the NCAA about its mitigation factors against the spread of COVID-19, click here