*Editor’s Note: This story reflects the College’s COVID-19 athletics protocols at the time of publication, guidelines are subject to change over time.
With the recent rise in COVID-19 cases on campus, the College Athletics department has updated its protocols to ensure that students and staff can remain safe while in season. The updates include mandatory twice weekly testing for athletes in season; dedensified traveling protocols; permitting only students, staff, and faculty to use the Shanks Health and Wellness Center and Philips gym; and halting YeoFit classes until Feb. 21.
Despite adding more stringent guidelines to the updated guidelines, the Athletics department will not be requiring student-athletes to practice or compete in masks like they did in fall 2020 and spring 2021.
In a Dec. 23 email to the campus community, President Carmen Twillie Ambar announced expanded testing protocols for everyone who arrives on campus after winter break; all students, faculty, and staff are required to get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of their return. Student-athletes and Athletics staff will additionally be required to receive a PCR test twice a week throughout their season on Mondays and Thursdays. They will scan a unique QR code at Hales Gymnasium before entering the facility.Any student-athlete who misses their PCR test will be ineligible to play. Student-athletes who test positive are required to immediately report their results to ObieSafe, their team trainers at Sports Medicine, and their coaches. Oberlin is testing more than NCAA recommendations, while all other schools in the conference are following the NCAA standard.
Second-year field hockey and women’s lacrosse player Emilie Jones says being tested twice a week was pretty surprising news, but she agrees with the decision given the rise in cases on campus at the end of December.
“I think it’s smart to be testing athletes on a consistent basis, especially because we just had a major outbreak,” she said. “Honestly, if getting tested twice a week means we get a more normal season, then I’m all for it. I’d rather get tested super often and be able to play than go back to last year where we only had four games.”
Second-year and women’s basketball player Gina Lombard agrees that student-athletes should be tested regularly, as current guidelines allow them to practice and play indoors without masks.
“It makes sense that if we’re going to be the ones allowed to participate in things that most students can’t, that we be held to a higher standard and take more accountability in testing,” she said.
Third-year volleyball player and track and field athlete Iyanna Lewis says that she was feeling nervous about how her season would continue once the new Omicron variant began to spread rapidly, but the new guidelines at Oberlin are promising.
“It makes me a lot more comfortable that everyone is getting tested really often,” she said. “I am not sure if this protocol extends to other schools, so I am still a little nervous about traveling for competitions, but I feel better than I would have without those extra precautions.”
While the Athletics department will not be requiring student-athletes to practice or compete in masks like they did in fall 2020 and spring 2021, student-athletes and coaches must be masked whenever they are not actively practicing. In the weight room, athletes will still be required to wear masks, and coaches have been asked to help enforce this rule.
Coaches have also been asked to encourage their athletes to receive the booster shot and upload their booster cards online as soon as possible. Oberlin has required all students — not just student-athletes — as well as faculty and staff to receive a booster shot by Feb. 18. Students should upload their vaccination cards here and faculty and staff should upload their vaccination cards here.
In terms of traveling, only one team will be allowed on a charter bus at a time. All meals on the road must be grab-and-go, similar to the new restrictions for the College dining halls. The College has canceled any group travel that requires flying over Winter Term, but coaches and administrators are permitted to travel for recruitment and business purposes.
The women’s lacrosse team was originally scheduled to travel to Florida for Winter Term to train and play their first game, but the trip has since been canceled.
Jones says this decision came as no surprise, but while it was disappointing to hear, she knows her team will make the best out of the situation.
“Once the Omicron variant started to hit more states, I have to say I saw this decision coming,” she said. “It’s a huge bummer that we can’t go because we were all super excited for it, but right now we’re just trying to stay optimistic. We can still do Winter Term together at Oberlin and spend that time training as we build up to the season, which is still a good opportunity.”
Similarly, Lombard’s team planned to travel to California, but the trip was also canceled. She says that this decision is bittersweet — disappointing, but ultimately the right call.
“I’m obviously sad we didn’t get to go, but when you look at the state of the country and the amount of cases that we have it just wouldn’t have been safe to go,” she said. “I think as the outbreak got worse, we all had a sense that they would cancel the trip.”
Coaches have also been asked to eliminate any team meals and gatherings that are not a necessity. Any indoor or outdoor event sponsored by a team, the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, or Black Student Athlete Group will require masking. Some athletes think this may hinder their team’s ability to bond or create connections within other student-athletes, but many understand why the decision needed to be made.
“Even though this wasn’t what we hoped for or expected, we still have an opportunity to play and practice together and make a positive experience out of this,” Jones said. “Our team is composed of a very remarkable group of people, and I know that we’ll still work equally as hard to make this season great.”
The department and teams may still host recruits but no large groups. Prospective athletes are encouraged to be vaccinated and boosted, and they must wear masks on campus. No overnight visits for prospective students are permitted at this time. Spectators are still allowed to watch games but must remain masked.
Shanks Health and Wellness Center and Philips gym will be open to Oberlin College students, staff, and faculty only; there are no outside rentals at this time. YeoFit classes will resume on Feb. 21.
Associate Vice President for Athletics Advancement Natalie Winkelfoos stated in an email to all coaches that the department is trying to minimize risks that players face.
“The goal is to keep our own student-athlete experience the priority,” she wrote.