Syracuse, N.Y. – Syracuse University has entered a “pause” phase for its men’s basketball program, following the news Sunday night that Jim Boeheim and one other person in the program tested positive for Covid-19.
What that pause means is not entirely clear right now. SU cannot, for the foreseeable future, practice together as a team. Boeheim must isolate from his team for 10 days, then prove he does not have a fever for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
At issue is the quarantine period for players and staff who did not test positive and whether Onondaga County officials will be moved by an innovative tracking process in the men’s basketball program that hopes to eliminate the need for every player to quarantine for 14 days.
Players, coaches and other Tier 1 personnel (athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, equipment staff, etc.) at Syracuse have been wearing wristwatch-like devices designed to measure how close each individual comes to another individual during practices. SU is hoping to use recorded data from those devices to define what a “close contact” is, thereby avoiding having its entire team quarantine for 14 days after someone tests positive in the program.
But because the technology is new to the team and the Onondaga County Health Department determines what constitutes a “close contact,” nobody knows right now the scope of an SU quarantine.
That could change this week.
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said today that county health officials plan to reschedule a postponed meeting with the basketball program sometime this week. The county “wants to see the technology and understand it.”
At issue is whether the data recorded on those devices provides a more precise level of contact tracing than the county’s usual process to identify close contacts. If Onondaga county health commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta “gives the blessing,” McMahon said, the county will use the data from those basketball devices to determine contact tracing for the program going forward.
“You can micro-target the tracing to the degree that no human can,” McMahon said. “That’s what this is.”
McMahon wished Boeheim well Monday and said Dr. Gupta has spoken with the Syracuse coach. He expects the county will have an answer for SU before its first game.
“We’re interested in seeing this technology,” McMahon said, “and we’ll have a decision if we’ll use this in lieu of contact tracing specifically and then we’ll go to specifically what the current status is (of the team).”
To be clear, those wearable devices are the only reason SU might be able to escape a blanket 14-day team quarantine.
The 14-day quarantine for close contacts is a recommended NCAA guideline. The ACC policy, too, requires that any team member identified as a close contact is required to quarantine for 14 days and “must complete the full quarantine before returning to activity.” Neither the ACC nor Onondaga County allows for “testing out” of quarantine, meaning the full two-week quarantine period needs to be concluded even if a close contact subsequently records negative tests.
SU spokesperson Sarah Scalese said in an email today that there wasn’t much more to share about the situation at Syracuse right now.
“The men’s basketball program continues to be paused at this time which means no basketball-related activities are currently occurring,” said Scalese, SU’s senior vice president of communications. “The program is following guidelines from the Onondaga County Health Department, the ACC Medical Advisory Group and the CDC. All members of the program will be retested tomorrow, at which time we evaluate next steps, including as it relates to the season opener.”
The season-opener is scheduled for 11 days from now. A spokesman from Bryant said this morning he’d heard nothing about a changed status of that game; it is likely days away from a determination.
Iona has already erased a game from its schedule and likely will pull out of games in the giant Mohegan Sun “bubble,” too. (That venue is set to hold games involving about 40 college basketball teams beginning later this month.)
Iona is one of a handful of New York State schools to record a recent positive Covid test within its men’s basketball program. Iona’s senior associate athletic director/communications Brian Beyrer said today the Gaels’ pause means that no athletic activities at all will happen for the men’s basketball program during its two-week quarantine period.
At Iona, players must isolate in their rooms. The school is providing food and delivering it to their doors. An exercise bicycle, Beyrer said, is being installed in every suite so players can continue cardiovascular workouts. Iona imposes its own set of regulations on students/staff who test positive for Covid-19. Since basketball players live in dormitories on campus, they are required to follow the strictest of quarantines, Beyrer said.
At Iona, which announced its pause last Thursday, officials are still trying to determine the exact start date of the quarantine and what it means for a restart of the program. Beyrer expected to learn more at a staff meeting this afternoon.
“You test, then you don’t get the result back for a day or two. You’re acting as if everything is normal because it’s regular surveillance testing,” he said. “It’s not like the symptomatic case where you’re symptomatic and you isolate until you get the result back. We’re testing and then acting as if everything is good. Within a couple days of getting the (positive) test results back, they were all still together.”
The Gaels were supposed to open with Fordham on Nov. 25, the NCAA start date for men’s college basketball. That game won’t be played, given the 14-day quarantine restrictions, Beyrer said. The games at Mohegan Sun were set for Nov. 29, Dec. 1 and 2 fall on an ambitious time line for a return to basketball.
“It’s 14 days but really, you’re looking at longer because you really haven’t done anything for 14 days,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to participate at Mohegan Sun. We were supposed to get there on the 27th (of November). We would have one practice, then have to wait for tests results to come back when we get to Mohegan, and then maybe have a workout the day before we play the first game. So that’s one and a half real practices and then we play three games in four days. That would not have been safe, either.”
Syracuse is scheduled to open with Bryant on Nov. 27. The entire Orange schedule has not been released, but a Dec. 8 date at Rutgers and a Dec. 12 game against Boston College (the ACC opener) have been announced.