Even amidst the COVID-19-induced chaos of the past few weeks, Wake Forest’s varsity athletic programs have been permitted to continue operating, albeit under the same strict set of protocols that have been in effect since the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. While in-person dining, gym privileges and access to Benson and the ZSR Library have been suspended, winter sports teams are proceeding with caution, doing their best to follow an abundance of regulations implemented by Wake Forest, the ACC and the NCAA.
Per Wake Forest Athletic Director John Currie, student-athletes currently in-season are tested for COVID-19 thrice weekly in accordance with ACC protocols. Testing protocols for non-student-athletes have been less comprehensive. Beginning during the fall semester, there has been mandatory random testing for all non-student-athletes at Wake Forest, yet the frequency with which students were selected for testing during the fall semester varied widely.
The random testing rate was ramped up to 1,000 students per week at the beginning of the spring 2021 semester, and Wake Forest recently began requiring university-wide testing for all non-athletes last week, when cases began to spike.
It is likely that without the extreme caution exercised by Wake Forest student-athletes, coaches and staff, the Athletics Department wouldn’t have been able to continue functioning when other university operations ground to a halt. Athletic Director Currie has been thrilled with the responsiveness of staff, coaches and players amid the crisis, even as the situation on campus has grown more dire.
“Most of the protocols for student-athletes are not new,” Currie said. “They’ve been doing it all year long. I’m very proud of the persistence and perseverance of our student-athletes, coaches and staff “
Unfortunately, as the university has had to scramble to adjust to the influx of active cases, campus has become a breeding ground for rumors and gossip about what the administration’s next move will be. False information regarding potential shifts in operating status has circulated on multiple occasions.
One such rumor began within the Athletic Department after an email sent from a staff member incorrectly insinuated that Wake Forest was switching from Orange to Red status, a claim that was later debunked.
Currie chalked the incident up to miscommunication and vowed to ensure his department will do better in the future.
“There was a miscommunication from one person to another [regarding what might] happen,” Currie said. “And the person receiving the information thought that was what was [definitely] going to happen. We’ll continue to endeavor to make sure that we’re as accurate as we possibly can be…”
Currie also clarified that student-athletes are encouraged in a variety of ways to follow all the CDC guidelines regarding COVID-19, just like the rest of the Wake Forest student body.
“Wearing a mask, staying apart, and social distancing … all those things work if you practice them,” Currie said. “Our coaches are constantly reminding our student-athletes about that. The drive is to make sure we’re all as safe as we possibly can be.”
As we’ve all come to understand, however, COVID-19 is unpredictable. There’s only so much that can be done to mitigate the spread of the virus, and the occasional positive case is inevitable. The Athletics Department has prepared for this reality, implementing a series of steps to prioritize the health and safety of those involved, should an athlete or coach test positive.
“Contact tracing is done very quickly to identify what activities need to be changed or altered,” Currie noted. “The athletic director, the coaches don’t make those decisions. Those decisions are made by medical professionals.”
Currie also made it clear that Wake Forest student-athletes are encouraged to make the best, most health-conscious decisions they can regarding their participation in Wake Forest athletics. Every student-athlete can elect to opt-out at any time, should they so choose. To date, not many of them have exercised that option.
Though the semester got off to a rocky start, Athletic Director Currie sees a light at the end of the tunnel for the Wake Forest community. He compared our current situation to the last few minutes of an intense athletic contest.
“Now’s when you really have to focus on your fundamentals. [We must] persevere to win the game,” he said. “I believe we’re going to do that together at Wake Forest.”