The medical director of Lafene Health Center at Kansas State University is part of a team contributing research on quarantine guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Kyle Goerl, who also is one of the team physicians for K-State Athletics, is the co-author of a publication that appeared in the CDC weekly report on morbidity and mortality on Jan. 8. The publication, “Time from Start of Quarantine to SARS-CoV-2 Positive Test Among Quarantined College and University Athletes,” was one of many considered by the CDC for its update on shortened quarantine options.
“We realized we’ve got this plethora of data,” Goerl said. “Students athletes are probably tested more than almost any group of people in the U.S.”
The updated guidelines state people can now end their quarantine after the 10th day without testing if they have no symptoms. Goerl and his team describe their findings among a sample of college athletes from 17 states who were exposed to COVID-19 from June to October 2020. In that publication, Goerl states 25% of the athletes tested positive during quarantine, and the positive test occurred an average of nearly four days after their quarantines started. However, the probability of testing positive went down as the quarantine progressed, dropping from 27% after Day 5 to less than 5% after Day 10.
“I think it shows … that athletic teams in schools are doing a pretty good job of protecting them in their facilities on campus,” Goerl said.
Collegiate athletic programs, including K-State Athletics, began to develop plans to resume sports in June. Those plans included mitigation measures such as physical distancing and face coverings, as well as outdoor training and isolation for COVID-19 cases.
Goerl, who also helped the Big 12 Conference develop its coronavirus protocols, said Lafene Health Center continues to offer contact testing for anyone on campus.
“If you can identify a contact that ultimately turns into a case that needs isolated, the sooner you can do that the better,” Goerl said.
The published study includes data from 1,830 quarantined athletes at 24 colleges and universities. According to results of the study, more than 40% of the reported COVID-19 exposures were from social gatherings and 32% were from contact with roommates. Of the athletes surveyed, only 12% reported being exposed in their sports setting. Football and track and field athletes were the ones most commonly quarantined, followed by cross country and soccer athletes.
The publication involves more than a dozen contributors from several organizations, including the CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service, and Matt Thomason, the head athletic trainer for K-State football. Goerl said a “good number” of people in Lafene Health Center have received the COVID-19 vaccination, and that he is working with Riley County and Kansas officials to eventually vaccinate people beyond the walls of the clinic.
“We’re a closed point of distribution, and we’ve been given the responsibility of immunizing students, faculty and staff, but we have no permission to immunize beyond that,” Goerl said. He said his team is actively working on how it will distribute the vaccine and to whom, but there is no indication from county or state officials as to when the university will receive vaccines or how many doses it will get.
Goerl said the clinic had a special freezer installed to keep vaccines at optimal temperatures. The vaccine from Pfizer must be kept unusually cold — around negative 90 degrees Fahrenheit — while the vaccines from Moderna and AstraZenaca can be kept slightly warmer. He said, for now, the best thing we can do is be patient as the vaccine gets rolled out to the public.
“If I’ve learned anything from this pandemic and the whole experience, it’s that you’ve just got to be ready to pivot on a moment’s notice,” Goerl said. “We need to be ready to assist as the vaccine reaches more people.”