Did you ever wonder why the federal guidelines for COVID-19 quarantines decreased last year from 14 days to 10? You might be surprised to learn that two local doctors had a hand in it.
It can be easy to miss “Corvallis, Oregon” on the list of dozens of cities on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. A study published online shows the names of doctors and where they work, noting who contributed to the data that ended up shortening the length of COVID-19 quarantines.
Corvallis appears twice: Once for Oregon State University's Dr. Doug Aukerman, a senior associate athletic director for sports medicine; and once more for Dr. Adam Brady, an infectious disease expert and member of Samaritan Health Services' coronavirus task force.
Both men contributed to a collaborative study that started within OSU athletics and then grew to include other Pac-12 schools and other Division I conferences. The purpose of the study was to come up with policies for how to regularly test athletes for COVID-19 and how best to prevent those with the disease from infecting their teammates.
Before fall football began, for instance, there were still a lot of questions remaining about how to reopen college athletics safely, especially for high-contact sports. Each conference had its own level of testing and its own policies in place. Some parts of the country started the season on time, while Pac-12 schools played a shortened season.
“The Pac-12 … was delaying the start of football because that group didn’t think testing was where it needed to be,” said Brady. “There were still a lot of unanswered questions.”
In order to adequately trace exposure of COVID-19 and determine how long exposed athletes needed to quarantine, daily testing first had to become a reality. Once it did, each Pac-12 school started comparing data. Before long, it became a collaborative effort across all of college sports.
Student athletes, who were being so carefully monitored, proved the perfect sample size for disease experts like Brady to study.
“You need data to make decisions,” said Brady. “But when you have this captive population that’s tested so frequently and watched over so closely … it’s a unique opportunity to really study that group.”
The more they looked at the data, the more they started to realize that positive tests after 10 days were extremely rare. Once they compared their findings with other schools, the data started looking more and more definitive.
“We noticed that, if people were going to test positive, it was going to be in that first week,” said Aukerman. “That’s not just here at Oregon State but across the country. Once you have all these universities and institutions putting their numbers together, those numbers add up pretty quickly.”
The CDC, which had been working with numerous organizations around the country to evaluate quarantine recommendations, caught wind of this study among college athletics and saw the data as crucial for review.
“We initiated conversations with the CDC ... to see if they were willing to evaluate that data as another pathway,” Aukerman said. “They were interested not on the impact on athletes but on the implications that could apply to the health of the rest of the country.”
The CDC clearly agreed with the findings because it shortened the recommended quarantine length for the entire public shortly after.
That reduction of four days may not seem like a lot to some, but for everyday Americans who have to miss work, every day counts.
“Anything that can reduce the time of quarantine and not have people out of work is really beneficial … I’m sure in a lot of places but certainly in hospitals,” Brady said, noting that adequately staffing a hospital is crucial during a pandemic.
The local physicians say that this also demonstrates a rare instance where college athletic departments got to influence the health policies that affect the larger public.
“There’s not a lot of times where we can take the data and information we’re taking in college athletics and apply it to a positive impact for the overall community,” said Aukerman. “It certainly does make an impact on the working individuals across our country.”
It’s also proof of how much collaboration has been necessary — from developing the vaccines quickly to formulating federal guidelines — in order to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People forget that there were no experts on COVID,” Brady said. “There were experts on infectious diseases and how pandemics spread, but most of what we know about this coronavirus came from people taking the extra effort to use all those extra data for the good of the scientific community.”
It’s also proof that, with that level of collaboration and impact happening across the medical community, even cities as small as Corvallis can wind up having an impact.
“For a city the size of Corvallis to have this level of input … I think it’s really unique,” Brady said. “I think the cool thing is how collaboration in the college athlete world can kind of lead towards more information in the time of the pandemic.”