- Chuck Brady, CEO and Chief Higher Education Advisor, Campus Health Project
- Joyce Gresko, Partner, Alston & Bird LLP
- Dr. Thomas Huard, Chief Clinical Laboratory Advisor, Campus Health Project
On Tuesday, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) hosted a webinar to help its member institutions better prepare for all aspects of testing for COVID-19. No vaccine means that testing is the most important risk-mitigation strategy that colleges and universities can employ to ensure the health and safety of their student-athletes for returning to play. In addition, because higher education and college athletics programs are not the only entities seeking frequent testing capabilities, it is important for institutions to secure their testing capabilities now to have a chance at playing sports in the fall. The panel, sponsored by Campus Health Project (CHP), recently founded to help colleges and universities secure COVID-19 testing capacity and logistical support, featured Chuck Brady (CEO at CHP), Joyce Gresko (Partner at Alston & Bird; who is the Legal Counsel at the American Clinical Laboratory Association (ACLA); and also appeared on LEAD1’s first testing webinar in June), and Dr. Thomas Huard (Chief Clinical Laboratory Advisor at CHP).
Brady opened the panel by underscoring some of the challenges that college sports now faces due to the discrepancies between the NCAA’s testing guidance (released last week) and the general turnaround times (for results) by most testing labs. The NCAA’s guidance states, for example, that testing results for high-risk contact sports should be obtained within 72 hours of completion. At the same time, according to Brady, the average turnaround time (for non-priority testing, which sports is likely to be considered) is seven days. The critical point is that demand for testing currently outweighs supply. Brady made another often less talked about comment worth highlighting: while there are certainly risks involved with playing sports, the more likely way that student-athletes could become infected is away from the playing field (where there is less supervision). In other words, it is not necessarily the risk of sport that becomes the issue, but rather, student-athletes’ activities when they are away from it. In this vein, athletics departments should appoint one person dedicated to all things COVID testing. In addition, athletics departments should appoint a quality assurance individual to ensure all testing is conducted properly.
As she did so thoroughly on LEAD1’s first testing webinar, Gresko then outlined the various things athletics departments should consider when contracting with a testing lab such as ensuring the lab is CLIA certified, subject to Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and complying with HIPPA regulations. Gresko also discussed all things from a federal funding standpoint, for example, there may be federal aid to pay for return-to-school (and work) and tax credits against payroll taxes for employers to test employees.
Finally, Dr. Huard provided an update on the various testing collection devices such as nasopharyngeal (NP), saliva and nasal swab, mentioning that NP, while the least convenient is the most accurate. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for college sports is Dr. Huard’s opinion on specimen pooling, a laboratory technique to save money and use fewer resources (mostly for asymptomatic people) where specimen can be tested in batches – while the pooling technique can reduce costs, Dr. Huard is apprehensive regarding pooling and believes it can lead to false negatives in COVID tests and more delayed results. Dr. Huard also outlined various tips for working with on-campus and off-campus labs such as choosing labs that can provide a 24-hour turnaround time consistently, handle thousands of daily tests, and immediately report (as well as understand where the institution stands on prioritization such as testing athletes versus non-athletes).
Brady summed it up best for college sports — testing for COVID-19 is the new “pre-game” routine that colleges and universities will need to play sports in the fall. Lab testing is not a “just in time” environment and requires advanced commitments for timely results.
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