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Adia Barnes proud of players for reporting COVID-19 symptoms that led to shutdown of Arizona women’s basketball

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Championship Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The thought of missing Christmas at home was scary for the Arizona women’s basketball team. The idea that if they tested positive for COVID-19, they wouldn’t be allowed to return to their loved ones bothered them more than anything else. Yet, when symptoms started popping up on their trip to NAU in mid-December, they faced those fears and reported the symptoms to the medical staff.

“We’re managed very well medically,” head coach Adia Barnes said. “When we have any glimpse of anything, our players communicate that with our medical staff and we take care of it. Now if we didn’t do that we wouldn’t have ever been tested. So I think that’s one mature thing. I’m proud of my players.”

Last season, players didn’t get to go home for the holidays. Many did not see their families for over a year. Barnes didn’t want that for them this year and they didn’t want that for themselves, even if it meant they could possibly test positive once they got home or pick up the virus while they were away.

Players who tested negative were allowed to go. All players and staff who were positive went into quarantine. Barnes was one of those quarantined despite having been vaccinated three times.

The coach described her experience with COVID-19 as a “bad cold” and said that she could have returned to work after four days if she needed to. The CDC guidelines were changed while she was in isolation protocol, lowering the quarantine period to five days in many cases.

What devastated Barnes was a fear she has harbored throughout the pandemic: that she would give the virus to her 16-month-old daughter. While her older son didn’t get it, her baby did. The toddler ran a fever of over 104 degrees for three nights, but Barnes was relieved that she was not hospitalized. That doesn’t mean her worries are over, though. She said she has been told that they need to monitor the child for a few months.

“As a mom, though, you want to protect your family,” Barnes said. “I don’t care that I got it. It’s just when it’s someone else involved.”

But she knows that it’s part of what she signed up for during these times.

“It is what it is,” Barnes said. “If I’m going to choose an athletic career and I’m going to choose to work in this environment. This is what I have to do and unfortunately, I gave it to my daughter, but she’s okay. I took care of her when I had COVID which was hard, but you know, I’m okay. I’m fine now.”

The virus spread through the group quickly because they were in a strange environment. Barnes said that the elevation and the cold of Flagstaff along with some players getting more playing time, made them think that minor sniffles and aches were simply related to environmental and athletic conditions that they weren’t accustomed to. To be safe, they tested—and got the news they had been dreading.

If there ever was a time to go on pause due to the pandemic, Barnes was relieved that it happened when they wouldn’t be forced to cancel too many games. She was also relieved that the players who came down with the virus seemed to handle it without major issues.

Recent video on the program’s Instagram story shows the players practicing in procedure masks. Barnes said if they had known that it spread so quickly, they would have been doing that weeks ago.

The masking issue has become more of an issue for fans in McKale Center, as well. Cloth masks will no longer be sufficient to enter the arena. Cloth masks have been known to provide little to no protection for at least a year, but the guidelines from most institutions (including the University of Arizona) did not differentiate between different kinds of face coverings. Most mass media outlets only started to report on this over the last week or two. The majority of masks in public locations, including McKale, were cloth.

Beginning immediately, fans must wear “surgical masks,” also referred to as “procedure masks,” or better to enter the arena. That can include N95, KN95, and KF95 respirators.

Fans should still be careful and not rely solely on masks for protection given that there are thousands of people in McKale for a basketball game. Surgical masks tend to have many of the same issues that cloth masks do, such as significant gaps in coverage. On the other hand, N95 and KN95 masks generally do not fit a child’s face and can be difficult to breathe through, especially for those with other health issues. In addition, many N95, KN95, AND KF95 respirators on the mass market have been shown to be counterfeit. The solution will not be the same for all fans.

Barnes encourages fans to wear masks, but she believes most sports teams will eventually have an outbreak. Most players and staff members will eventually get COVID-19 despite being vaccinated. For her, she said, it was “inevitable” given the nature of her life as a coach.

“If I knew...the data is what it is now, we probably would have all (on) my team been wearing masks in practice, like two weeks ago, but no one really knew and it kind of happened so fast,” Barnes said. “So now, of course, everybody has their guards up, but you don’t feel like you need to until something like this happened....But it’s hard. And then you coach the game. You’re talking to players, sweating, so you know you’re just around your team. You’re on buses, you’re on a plane. So I think once it goes through some of your team, it’s hard not to hit 90 percent or 70 percent of people. And that’s just kind of how it some point every team will go through it. So, honestly, for me and some of our players and staff, the timing couldn’t have been better, having it at Christmas, because we could have missed weeks in the Pac-12.”

They hope not to miss more games due to their own issues, but there are other things at stake. While Barnes doesn’t think it’s appropriate to take the track that some professional leagues do by not testing asymptomatic players, she also doesn’t believe there’s a big risk to the players.

“I think it’s a very different thing than when you’re a 19-year-old amateur that’s not getting paid to play and you have a career ahead of you,” Barnes said. “The fortunate thing is athletes aren’t dying right now from COVID. They’re not, I don’t think this past year. I’m not a medical person, but I haven’t heard of anybody being hospitalized. So I do think that we can continue to play. I think the dangerous part is it’s not as much the healthy student-athletes. As a coach, I want to have McKale full. I want to continue to play. I don’t want to miss games. We’re going to try to make up as many games as we can. I want our fans to see us play. I want to pack McKale with 10-15,000 people.”