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The Pac-12's medical experts are considering changes to the conference's COVID protocols that could potentially salvage a basketball season threatened by the Omicron variant.
The changes likely would track with new guidance issued by the CDC and focus on the duration of the isolation and quarantine periods for individuals who test positive or are exposed to the virus.
"We're in the process of updating the conference guidelines," Miguel Rueda, chair of the Pac-12's Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Board, told the Hotline.
Numerous men's and women's basketball games have been canceled in the past month as cases rise and players are removed from team activities.
On Monday, the CDC changed its guidance to allow asymptomatic individuals who test positive to exit isolation after five days, instead of 10.
The CDC also shortened the quarantine time for individuals exposed to COVID — a potentially crucial change given the number of football and basketball games that have been disrupted because of contact tracing, not positive cases.
Individuals exposed to COVID who haven't received booster shots should quarantine for five days; those with a booster do not need to quarantine at all.
The NFL immediately shifted its policy for players who test positive.
"The CDC's guidance is based on the fact that they don't feel that people are still at risk of spreading infection five days after their positive test," Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's chief medical officer, told reporters, according to ESPN.
"That mirrors what we've been seeing and why we are supportive and eager to implement this change."
The Pac-12's medical advisors are in agreement that Omicron moves more rapidly than the variants circulating in 2020, when the CDC's 10-day isolation period was initially recommended.
"The data shows the infectious period is not the whole 10 days; it's less than that," said Rueda, a senior associate athletic director at Colorado.
"As we're getting better with our knowledge, we want to be more efficient."
If asymptomatic players were allowed to leave isolation after five days, instead of 10 — and if the quarantine period were cut to five days, or eliminated — the disruption to the basketball season could be greatly reduced.
But there's a potential snag.
CDC's new guidance to drop isolation of positives to 5 days without a negative test is reckless— Michael Mina (@michaelmina_lab) December 27, 2021
Some ppl stay infectious 3 days,Some 12
I absolutely don't want to sit next to someone who turned Pos 5 days ago and hasnt tested Neg
Test Neg to leave isolation early is just smart
"A number of public health departments within the (Pac-12) footprint are not quite ready to follow the CDC guidelines," Rueda said, adding: "I get why certain places are more skeptical."
The CDC's revised guidance has drawn criticism from public health experts because it does not require a negative test to exit isolation; nor does it distinguish between unvaccinated, vaccinated and boosted individuals.
"CDC's new guidance to drop isolation of positives to 5 days without a negative test is reckless," Dr. Michael Mina, the chief science officer for eMed, tweeted on Monday.
Any policy set at the conference level would be superseded by more restrictive protocols at the local and state level, Rueda said.
Asked if that could result in different isolation policies across the conference, he added:
"I hope not. If you have good policy that's based on science and based on data, we'd like to afford the same opportunities for all the student athletes."
The conference potentially could craft a policy that tracks with the CDC's new guidance but includes an extra layer of precaution — for instance, the requirement that an asymptomatic athlete must test negative after five days before exiting isolation.
"Everybody is anxious to do this because we have identified the isolation period as the thing that needs to be addressed," Rueda said.
"We're trying to keep the disruption to a level that makes sense."
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.
Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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