Oregon State’s Dr. Doug Aukerman played a pivotal part in the difficult decision to postpone the Pac-12 fall sports seasons.
Aukerman, OSU’s senior associate athletic director, sports medicine, is the head of the conference’s medical advisory committee.
Aukerman said he has been meeting with fellow physicians and infectious disease experts every week during the COVID-19 pandemic.
They were ready when asked for guidance on the status of the fall football season.
Aukerman said the decision really came down to two major issues with the virus. One is that it is not well controlled and is still prevalent throughout many of the communities in the Pac-12 region.
“The other issue is that there is some emerging data about some health risks that affect athletes, specifically the cardiac side effects of potential COVID infections that we don’t know enough about," he said Tuesday. "So we became more concerned about that and that’s kind of how we began to start looking at how can we make sure that we provide the safest opportunity, the safest environment for our student-athletes to compete and exercise when social distancing can no longer be maintained.
“We’re essentially, by going into a contact season, asking them to disregard a lot of the guidelines both federally and locally from the health department and the CDC to socially distance and physically distance to decrease the spread of this disease. Instead, playing contact sports we know is a condition where it’s going to be a higher risk of spread.”
Aukerman said the public health doctors and sports cardiologist consultants have put a lot of time and effort into the process and all would love to see sports going on as usual but want to make sure it’s done in a safe manner.
When they looked at the widespread presence of COVID-19 and considered the realities of air travel for the various teams along with how to stop the spread of the virus if an athlete or staff member wound up with it, the decision became a little more clear cut.
“Once we started becoming more concerned about some of the side effects and some of the other health outcomes that we don’t know the short-term and long-term consequences are yet, that we felt that we had to shift to a mindset of not just trying to stop spread, but we need to be able to identify and move anybody who has the coronavirus right away.
“And that becomes incredibly difficult when you’re in a community where this threat is not controlled or it’s not under some type of ability to mitigate it. Because our student-athletes are students and they are going to go to the grocery store, they’re going to go to restaurants, they’re going to interact with the community and we want them to. It’s not appropriate to think that we can bubble them and isolate them and therefore we felt it was very, very difficult to try and do this in a way that we felt was safe enough for our student-athletes that we would support.”
Aukerman said reviews of infection rates and models done by government agencies and universities indicate the virus is going to stick around for a time.
He does expect that the numbers will eventually head in the right direction.
“If you put them all together, the prevailing expectation is that we will be dealing with the coronavirus for some time and this is not going to rapidly fall off the curve without some extreme changes in our society and our social behavior,” he said. “So looking at those, we do think there’s going to be some improvement and will continue to improve but it’s not going to disappear.”
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