Spurlock

Unvaccinated Franklin College student athletes may be required to pay for their own COVID-19 tests due to updated Franklin College policy.

President Kerry Prather announced in a June 18 video and email that costs of testing unvaccinated students will be borne by the individual, rather than the college.

“It is not logistically feasible nor financially feasible for Franklin College to operate as if a COVID remedy does not exist,” Prather said. “It is also not safe to allow those who choose not to be vaccinated to present a risk to the rest of the community.”

The frequency with which student athletes will be tested has not yet been determined by the college, Franklin College Athletic Director Andy Hendricks said. But recent guidance from the NCAA and Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference may shape these decisions and dictate how often unvaccinated athletes will be tested.

“As indicated in previous communication from both President Prather and Dean Jones, testing for unvaccinated individuals on campus will be conducted at the individual’s expense,” Hendricks said. “We are currently researching a number of testing options and have plans to share our latest protocols for the fall as soon as we have an accurate account of costs and implementation.”

Testing will be available on Franklin College’s campus, as it was last year, said Vice President for Student Development and Dean of Students Andrew Jones.

According to Andrew Jones, the college is in the midst of exploring two options. The first would be continuing to have athletic training staff administer tests in the athletic training room in Spurlock Center. These would likely be rapid tests, he said. The second would involve having a third-party testing organization come to the campus, where students would likely be PCR tested, meaning they would have their nose swabbed.

Either way, students would be able to obtain tests from other locations and submit them to the college as they were able to during the 2020-21 school year provided the tests are not self-administered, Andrew Jones said.

In the updated Fortify Franklin plan, released Aug. 19, the college announced surveillance tests will cost $50 if not covered by the student’s insurance. This amount would be billed to their student account.

“It's our hope that [testing costs] will run through insurance first, so the student has ensured that the company will bill their insurance, but ultimately the student will be financially responsible for further testing if insurance doesn't cover it,” Andrew Jones said.

The costs of testing depend on the type of test and labor involved, Hendricks said.

Rapid tests are less expensive, but are not covered by insurance. Last year’s rapid tests were conducted on-site using the labor of Franklin College athletic training staff.

PCR testing, which is more accurate, requires more specialization and lab processing, Hendricks said. Free, state-funded PCR testing is available at Compass Park, near Franklin College’s campus.

Recommendations from the NCAA

The NCAA, released recommendations Aug. 4 that gave separate protocols for unvaccinated and vaccinated student athletes. The recommendations released by the organization are not requirements for member institutions.

The NCAA created separate guidelines because of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases and the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, which has largely infected unvaccinated individuals, Hendricks said.

According to the NCAA, unvaccinated student athletes should be surveillance tested weekly when community spread is substantial or high and will also be required to be tested prior to competitions.

The NCAA also recommends unvaccinated student athletes have one PCR test or three rapid tests for surveillance testing if community spread is substantial or high.

During competition, the NCAA recommends unvaccinated student athletes be PCR tested within three days of a competition or rapid-tested within one day of a competition.

Vaccinated individuals should not be tested unless symptomatic or in the case that there is an outbreak within a team, according to the guidance. They should not be required to quarantine or isolate, except in the case of a positive test. If exposed to someone with the virus, vaccinated individuals should wear a mask indoors for 14 days.

Franklin College has now imposed a masking requirement on campus, but prior to the announcement, the NCAA also made the requirement for athletes regardless of vaccination status during team travel and in indoor settings. The NCAA specified unvaccinated athletes must always be physically distanced, as well as masked.

If exposed to the virus, unvaccinated individuals will be required to follow the standard quarantine and isolation procedures.

Three new guidelines from the HCAC

The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, the athletic conference to which Franklin belongs, released similar guidance July 30.

The HCAC will require unvaccinated athletes competing in the conference to be tested in compliance with their institution’s standards and following HCAC guidelines. Mirroring Franklin College policy, individuals will be required to pay for their own COVID-19 tests, the HCAC said on their website.

HCAC Commissioner Jay Jones said that the new policies were made by the conference’s council of presidents as an alternative to requiring the vaccine for competing athletes. Other athletic conferences, like the Division II Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, have made it a requirement for athletes to be vaccinated.

Instead, the HCAC left it up to the 10 member institutions to make their own vaccine policies. Since many of the colleges had already announced that testing costs for unvaccinated athletes will be paid by students, the HCAC included that in their policies, Jay Jones said.

The conference guidance stated that competitions cancelled due to COVID-19 roster issues will be considered a forfeit for the affected team and the competition will not be rescheduled.

As of the July 30 announcement, the conference doesn’t plan on having conference-wide limitations on spectator attendance and none of the 10 colleges within the conference anticipated spectator attendance limitations. Decisions on spectator masking and distancing will be up to member institutions, according to the HCAC.

Dean Andrew Jones said Franklin College hasn’t finalized a plan for sport attendance at this time, but it will likely include masking and social distancing for indoor events with less regulation for outdoor ones.

Because HCAC policies were released prior to the determination of fall testing requirements, practical questions about timing of testing and local requirements will remain unanswered until closer to the start of the season.

Because these quarantine procedures for vaccinated and unvaccinated students mirror current CDC guidance, Andrew Jones said the college itself will likely take a similar approach.

Franklin’s path forward

Franklin College uses county metrics to assess the spread of the virus and has cited Johnson County’s recent increase in COVID-19 cases to justify the Aug. 12 announcement that masks will be required. This is just one factor that will determine college protocols. Cases on campus will be considered as well, Jones said.

The recently-released Fortify Franklin plan said COVID-19 surveillance testing will be similar to what was done at the end of the last school year, with 25% of the unvaccinated, non-athlete student population being tested every two weeks. The biggest change will be that only unvaccinated students and student athletes will be tested.

Because of NCAA recommendations and Franklin College policy, tests will be required upon arrival to campus for all unvaccinated students. The college has requested that students submit either proof of vaccination, intention to become vaccinated before the semester begins, or a negative COVID-19 test. Andrew Jones said there have been around 600 responses, with most indicating that students are already fully vaccinated or plan to be. However, there’s no way of knowing now if the remainder of the college’s approximately 1,000 students will become vaccinated or not.

Dean Andrew Jones said the college had formulated a plan before the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus had begun increasing case numbers, even among vaccinated people. Thus, the plan had to be scrapped and reworked with assistance from Johnson Memorial Hospital and information from the student survey and CDC.

“So we are still getting the policy — the new, revised draft — reviewed by other folks,” Jones said.

The updated policy was released Aug. 19.

If the percentage of vaccinated individuals at the college increases, the hope is that the testing and mitigation strategies will be able to decrease, Andrew Jones said.

Senior student athletes Quin Bailey and Grace Otte, said they are vaccinated, and they believed most of their respective teams to be as well.

Bailey, a swimmer, said the potential costs of testing are justified for athletes who made the decision to not receive the vaccine.

“I think it is okay for them to put up prices for the test because that is now your own responsibility, like you had the opportunity to get vaccinated and that was free. So you made your choice,” Bailey said.

Bailey hasn’t spoken with anyone who has issues with the policy, because most people she knows have received the vaccine. But, she said their frustrations may be justified.

“I can understand why people might be upset because it is a really big expense on top of the other expenses that college students and college athletes can face, especially to those who don't have the opportunity or are unable to get the vaccines,” she said.

Otte, a tennis player, said the testing procedures are necessary since the teams will continue to travel in the upcoming season and come into contact with athletes from other schools.

She also said she hopes the new policies will encourage more athletes to consider getting vaccinated.

“People that aren't getting vaccinated and the people that are getting COVID who are not vaccinated are realizing the seriousness of COVID-19,” Otte said. “And especially with the new variant because it's taking a larger toll on their health.”

Andrew Jones said he sympathizes with students who are dealing with changing COVID-19 procedures and complex attitudes towards the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We know that this is not easy for students,” Jones said. “We know it's a lot to navigate and a lot to process. We know students and their families have wildly different feelings about both vaccination and testing.”

As athletes move back onto campus for the fall season, they will be masked and required to submit proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests prior to arriving on campus. While not completely back to normal, the adjustments will be an alternative to the cancellations that occurred in fall 2020.

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