Washburn Athletics works to get on same team with vaccinations

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Gene Cassell

As sports fully return to Washburn, vaccines become important to keep them in full swing.

After a year of seasons that were cut short, cancelled, or almost cancelled, Washburn Athletics is back in full for the fall of 2021 with a chance to play a perfect season. With the COVID-19 vaccine available for everyone 12 years and older, all student-athletes and coaches are eligible to receive it to help protect themselves and others. Just like the rest of society, there have been challenges with getting everyone on the same page throughout the process.

Kristan Todd is an athletic trainer at Washburn University who is also the assigned point of contact for COVID information within Washburn athletics. One of her main goals over the summer and the upcoming school year was to find the best way to educate student-athletes so that they could make an informed decision before their seasons would begin.

“In our beginning of the year meetings we kind of went over it and showed them a video from Dr. Hainline. He is basically the director of health administration for the NCAA,” said Todd.

The video described getting the vaccine as a business deal. It is the best way the athlete could be guaranteed playing time without the need to sit out. That is just one of the benefits of being vaccinated in Washburn’s updated COVID policies for athletics. Vaccinated players also do not have to test for contact tracing or quarantine if they come in contact with a teammate who tests positive.
“The only way they would not be able to play is if they test positive. So even if they have symptoms, as long as they test negative, they won’t lose any playing time,” said Todd.

The policies in place for athletics closely follow those set in place by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), Washburn University and Shawnee County. Last year, guidelines were set by the NCAA for each university to follow, but this year the decisions were left to the schools.

“We took a survey of the conference and nobody in the conference is really testing. So the decision was made that we would also follow what all the other schools were doing and not test,” said Loren Ferré, Washburn’s Director of Athletics. “It was hard to justify testing our athletes if nobody else was testing theirs.”

With guidelines that could change at any point and without consistent testing, vaccines have become crucial to ensure that games are not canceled and athletes are as safe as possible. As of Sept. 1, 58% of student-athletes have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine according to Ferré.

“I was hoping for a higher percentage without question,” said Ferré. “I would like to see us as a department be between 70 and 90 percent. That would make me feel better.”

While Brittany Lauritsen, assistant athletic director / senior women’s administrator at Washburn, wouldn’t say she is disappointed with the student-athletes, she is worried about the seasons for teams with low vaccination rates.

“That’s a constant worry that keeps me up at night. You know, we are doing everything that we can on the education front in trying to encourage vaccinations,” said Lauritsen. “At the end of the day, all it takes is one bad spread through a team to decimate a season.”

Lauritsen is in constant communication with student-athletes, especially when answering policy questions and listening to concerns. Several athletes have come to her with concerns
about the vaccine. Others are looking for answers about why more athletes are not vaccinated.

“I would say I have just as many, if not more, of those folks who say ‘you know, I don’t understand why there are hesitations, or I don’t understand why you aren’t first in line when you had the opportunity’,” said Lauritsen.

According to Ferré, he is not aware of any vaccinated athletes who were uneasy about being around and competing with unvaccinated teammates. He also said that those concerns would be discussed within the team before coming to him.

As fall sports have gotten underway there have been no cancellations due to COVID-19 from Washburn’s side, and policies can still be adjusted at any time depending on the situation. Still, the consensus message from the athletics department administration is that the higher a team’s vaccination rate is, the better chance there is that each player can compete the whole season without disturbance.

Washburn University offers COVID-19 vaccines and testing for students through Student Health Services. Vaccine appointments can be made by calling 785-670-1470.

Edited by: Madison Dean,Simran Shrestha, Ellie Walker