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David Benedict discusses UConn's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic

The UConn athletic director answered questions from the media on Tuesday afternoon.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn athletic director David Benedict met with the media Tuesday afternoon to discuss the state of the Huskies’ athletic department amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

UConn’s quarantine policy

A main theme throughout the session was UConn’s quarantine policy. Benedict emphasized numerous times that every positive test is handled separately and the circumstances of it decide who needs to quarantine and for how long. For example, the school doesn’t focus on who tested positive — whether it’s a coach, player or another Tier I individual — but how much contact that person had with other members of their program.

“What matters is what that individual was doing within the context of team activities,” Benedict said. “So it could be anybody with any designation but it’s really more based on the activity in the interactions with the person that test positive so you could have a player, but if that player was injured and wasn’t really interacting with the team then there’s not a lot of issue there. You could have a coach but if the coach really isn’t engaged directly within six feet, unmasked a lot, then there’s reduced risk.”

For UConn, a person who tests positive will be isolated for 10 days. The length of the quarantine for others all depends on how much — or how little — interaction there was with the infected individual and if the virus spreads in the days after the positive test.

For example, if there’s “community spread”, meaning other members of a program get sick, then the school will quarantine everyone involved. But if nobody else tests positive within the next week, the quarantine period could be reduced.

“There’s lots of different factors that have to be taken into consideration,” Benedict said. “Both the 48 hours leading up to the positive test as well as the 72 hours after the positive test (are critical) before you can really start making decisions that are educated.”

WBB returns earlier than expected

Speaking of COVID-19 quarantine periods, UConn women’s basketball was expected to pause team activities for at least 14 days after a non-player or coach tested positive for the virus. However, last night the school announced the team returned to full practice on Dec. 3 — just 10 days later after “multiple negative tests amongst student-athletes.”

“It’s not necessarily the highest priority to communicate publicly everything that we’re doing,” Benedict said on why UConn announced that news four days after the team returned to practice.

Though the official statement from the school indicated the Huskies were fully back on Dec. 3, Benedict hinted that the team didn’t hold a true full practice until today.

“We got to a place where based on how things had played out, we did have the team back to practice. Not everyone was involved from a staffing standpoint in that practice,” he said. “We’re happy our kids are back on the court and we’re happy all of our coaches are back together for the first time today in a while.”

Head coach Geno Auriemma said after the team’s shutdown that only players were quarantined — no other staff members — so it’s unclear why all the coaches weren’t all at practice until today.

Testing protocols

UConn tests Tier I individuals (players, coaches, practice players, managers, sports medicine, other staff members) three times per week under normal circumstances. The school uses only PCR testing, which is a molecular test that looks for genetic material which only comes from the virus, according to Harvard. It is considered the most accurate COVID-19 test.

Benedict said the school has the option to increase the number how frequently it tests Tier I individuals if it feels it’s appropriate, but emphasized that those decisions are dictated by the school’s medical director as well as the situation itself.

Virus impacting more than basketball

Though the men’s basketball team has just begun its second COVID shutdown and the women’s basketball has just returned from one of their own, Benedict said there have been more pauses than just those three across the athletic department.

“Well I mean we’ve had more pauses than just the previous three. I guess if you’re referring to pauses that have impacted competition,” he said.

“It wasn’t that long ago that the university paused all activities when we had a spike so all of our programs but for the ones that are now competing lost I think about their final week,” Benedict added later. “But that was based on the impact the virus was having on the greater community at large and so I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head how many specifically we’ve had, but we’ve had several throughout the fall semester.”

Vaccine access unlikely in the near future

Though the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has been national news over the last couple weeks, Benedict doesn’t expect many members of UConn’s athletic department to receive it — at least not initially. Instead, the hope is that the school will have access to a vaccine for players and staff members by late summer 2021.

“We understand that for the majority of the individuals in our athletic department — be it student athletes or coaches or staff — most of us are probably not going to be on the highest priority list of getting access to the vaccines right away so it’s certainly something we’re tracking,” Benedict said. “We obviously hope that there’s going to be access prior to the beginning of the next academic year but we really don’t have a whole lot to do with that and I’m sure we’ll be told when we have the opportunity or the availability for our staff and student-athletes to have access to vaccines.”