CU Buffs open practice with COVID-19 tests, mini bubble

Colorado football team will stay at Millennium Harvest House hotel for at least two weeks

CU Athletics
BOULDER, CO – October 9, 2020: Colorado receiver Daniel Arias looks to catch a pass in front of cornerback Nigel Bethel during football practice. (Courtesy photo/University of Colorado)

The process of administering COVID-19 antigen tests to well over 100 football players and staff members isn’t quick, but the Colorado Buffaloes are making it as smooth as possible.

On Friday, the CU football team conducted its first preseason practice of the year and, as they’ll do another 25 times between now and the Nov. 7 opening game, they started the day with a round of testing.

“I think it was maybe two hours, 15 minutes to get everybody through,” said Miguel Rueda, CU’s director of health and performance.

Last month, the Pac-12 partnered with Quidel Corporation to provide CU and other schools with daily, rapid-results tests.

Rueda and the CU staff got the equipment from Quidel about 10 days ago and he said the staff has done “extensive” training on how to use the equipment. That training included Quidel reps coming to CU to teach the staff, along with online education. Rueda also said his peers in the conference are in constant communication as they get up to speed.

“We’re still learning a lot – a lot about the disease, a lot about the testing, a lot about different types of testing,” Rueda said. “(The staff has) become pretty fluent with it, thank God. We have some people that are researchers that have been doing testing across campus and they’re joining our staff in the mornings to do some testing with our athletes, so we’re getting them up and running.”

Meetings start around 8 or 8:30, followed by practice, so the process of testing begins early. Players are put into groups of 10 and start arriving to the facility at 6 a.m., with staggered arrival times.

“We’re following local health guidelines on how our athletes are supposed to get to the facility,” Rueda said. “Some of that is coached dependent. They may want groups here to get cleared earlier to go ahead and do some other things, or maybe we’re letting some of the seniors sleep in a little bit longer.”

The 10 members of the group are socially distanced and staff will give each a nasal swab antigen test, along with doing an overview of how they’re feeling. After the test is done, it is placed into a test tube and taken to the testing room. Staff has to wait 15 minutes to process it, while those tested go to a holding area to wait. When the test is processed, it takes two or three minutes to get the result, Rueda said.

“If they’re negative, they go ahead into the facility and then they can start the morning,” Rueda said.

If there’s a positive test, that athlete or staff member will be put in quarantine either at their off-campus residence or, if they live on campus, into an isolation dorm. According to Rueda, those who are asymptomatic are isolated for 10 days; those with symptoms will have a longer period of isolation.

CU will also do PCR tests at various times during the season.

As CU has done tests throughout the summer and fall, Rueda said anyone with symptoms at CU has had loss of taste or smell or cold-like symptoms, but “we haven’t seen any significant symptoms or troubling issues.”

Head coach Karl Dorrell was pleased with how the first day of testing went.

“You can’t get started on anything until you get everybody cleared to start meetings, and we had everybody cleared with all the testing we did today,” he said. “We allotted for the right amount of time and everybody was in the first meeting at eight o’clock, and everybody was cleared and ready to go.

“Everybody’s going to have to go through a clearing mechanism to make sure that they’re able to go to meetings and practice. It’s off to a really good start on the first day.”

Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell watches his team’s first practice on Friday.

To minimize the chances of the coronavirus infecting anyone or spreading throughout the team, the Buffs players, along with 10 staff members, will spend the next two weeks staying at the Millennium Harvest House hotel, which is located a short walk from the facilities. There will be two people assigned to a room at the hotel and the players will be encouraged to walk, rather than drive, from the hotel to the facilities each day. Players will continue to get grab-and-go meals from CU’s nutrition staff.

In two weeks, CU will work with Boulder County Public Health to reassess the situation.

Senior linebacker Nate Landman said he believes staying at the Harvest House will be a benefit as the Buffs prepare for the season.

“Being a young team, I think developing some team morale and some team chemistry is a necessity for us to be successful this year,” he said. “I think having that close quarters inside the hotel will just be nothing but beneficial for us, keeping guys safe and, like I said, just having that time to bond and just build upon our team characteristics.”

Landman said the staff will be strict in monitoring the players’ activity to keep them safe. Landman and senior receiver KD Nixon both said the team is fine with that, as they take a big picture view of the season ahead.

“You get a chance to be with all your brothers,” Nixon said. “There’s 100 of us, so just being in a hotel where you can talk to each other, have fun each other, love each other – even though we’re social distancing, you still get the time to just have fun and be around each other. Within that you can build, you can grow a team, you can have a great chemistry and that’s something that I think is going to pay off.”