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Pac-12 updates COVID-19 protocols based on recent CDC guideline changes

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 22 Arizona at Tennessee Photo by Bryan Lynn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Pandemic-related changes are fast and furious around the world of Division I basketball these days. The Pac-12 rolled its new policies and procedures on Thursday afternoon. The newest changes are based on new guidelines released by the CDC on Dec. 27.

The Pac-12 guidelines apply to all Tier 1 individuals. That group consists of “anyone with regular, close physical interaction with student-athletes, including student-athletes, coaches, support staff, team travel party (those travelling with the team or regularly having close physical interactions with the team while travelling),” according to the Pac-12 document.

The biggest change in the CDC guidelines was the reduction of the quarantine period for those who test positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Asymptomatic positives or those who have not had a fever in at least 24 hours are now urged to quarantine for five days then wear a mask for five days. Previously, standard quarantine was 10 days, but it could range from 7-14 days depending on the circumstances.

The changes in requirements may allow more teams to return to play after an outbreak or suspected outbreak more quickly than they have in the past. The hope is that fewer games will be canceled or postponed.

The Arizona men’s basketball team has already had to reschedule its Pac-12 opener against Washington and now must try to reschedule both UCLA and USC. All three games were postponed due to issues within the opponents’ programs.

The situation is even more dire for Arizona women’s basketball. The Wildcats had two nonconference games canceled. The first was due to protocols within the UC Riverside program. The second was due to protocols within Arizona’s program, forcing the cancellation of its high-profile game against Texas.

Since then, the Wildcat women have had both UCLA and USC postpone their games against Arizona. The Wildcats are also faced with the possibility that Washington may be unable to play on Jan. 9 after the Huskies postponed their games against California and Stanford this week.

Last season, Arizona women’s basketball had five of its 22 Pac-12 games postponed. They were not rescheduled.

In the Pac-12, women’s basketball has been decimated this week. Only two games are still on the schedule, with Cal and Stanford both set to face off against Washington State in Pullman. With teams still required to play 25 games in order to qualify for selection to the NCAA Tournament, several teams could be in danger of not competing in enough games this season. Arizona is one of those teams.

In hopes of addressing this issue, the Pac-12 has adopted the CDC guidelines with a few modifications. The conference now recommends that asymptomatic people who test positive for the virus isolate for five days after their positive test. They can then return to regular activities, but should continue to wear a mask around others for five days.

The conference’s modifications to the CDC guidelines relate to post-quarantine recommendations for those who have symptoms. For symptomatic cases, isolation must last for at least five days and until 24 hours after fever has resolved without the help of medication whichever is longer. These individuals should continue to mask for 10 days after emerging from quarantine.

Contact tracing is also addressed in the updated document. In these cases, people who have been vaccinated and received a booster do not need to isolate after a “known high-risk exposure,” but they should mask for 10 days while taking part in athletic activities. They can unmask if they have a negative PCR test or two negative antigen tests 24 hours apart. The antigen tests must be taken 3-5 days after the exposure event.

Those who are vaccinated but haven’t received boosters can participate, but must wear a mask for at least 3 days.

“Unboosted individuals may be permitted to participate in athletic activities without a mask beginning between days 3-5 and up to day 10 of the quarantine period if they have a negative PCR/NAAT test result for each day of participation,” the Pac-12 document reads.

The unvaccinated must wear a mask for at least five days and for up to 10 days after exposure. They may remove the mask beginning on day five if they have a negative PCR test or two negative antigen tests taken at least 24 hours apart.

The conference will continue running surveillance testing on unvaccinated individuals. This requirement is met by taking one PCR test per week or three antigen tests per week. Both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals must be tested if they present symptoms of COVID-19 even if they have previously had the disease.