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Volume 27 No. 10
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Top ACC Medical Advisor Says Football Can Be Played Safely

The ACC still is planning to play football in '20, and a Duke doctor who is advising the conference believes it can be done safely. Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke infectious disease specialist who chairs the ACC’s medical advisory team, confidently said he expects the conference to continue its steady march toward a football season. While the unpredictable coronavirus poses a risk, Wolfe said doctors have learned enough over the last six months to understand how to manage that risk. “We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe,” Wolfe told THE DAILY exclusively. “Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.”

CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM: Wolfe’s optimism helps explain why the league has remained steadfast in its desire to play this season, while others have waffled. The Big Ten and Pac-12 reportedly are poised to postpone their seasons, while the Mountain West and MAC already have postponed fall sports, including football. As of today, the ACC is set to begin its season Sept. 12 with an 11-game schedule, although other factors could come into play, including what the other FBS conferences do. Wolfe, as chair of the ACC’s medical advisory team, has a pipeline to the conference’s leadership of Commissioner John Swofford, university presidents and ADs. What they have heard him say is that “the virus isn’t going away.” Wolfe: “We have to co-exist with COVID. I like that saying because it summarizes a reality that this virus isn’t going anywhere. Whilst it ebbs and flows, we’re not going to see it ebb to zero anytime soon.” Wolfe said he has tried “not to be cataclysmic” about COVID. “This is not Ebola,” he said. “It doesn’t have the lethality or the infectivity. So, certain mitigation efforts can be incredibly helpful. We’ve seen that in other countries -- sadly not in the United States -- where good infection control and good regimented management have allowed groups to co-exist with this virus really well.”

UNPREDICTABLE RISK: What Wolfe cannot do is predict risk tolerance among administrators, athletes and fans. For there to be a season, there must be some acceptance of risk, just as there is when players walk onto the field under normal circumstances. Wolfe: “You have to feel some level of comfortable playing in a non-zero risk environment. You can’t tell me that running onto a football field is supposed to be a zero-risk environment. Look at all of the regular sporting injuries that we accept as a certain level of risk as part and parcel of football. Now the reality is that we have to accept a little bit of COVID risk to be a part of that.” Conferences in other parts of the country are coming to other conclusions. The Pac-12’s medical advisory group is advising the conference to stop contact and competitive activities right now, according to Dr. Dave Petron, a Univ. of Utah doctor on the conference’s advisory group. They are looking to implement more testing and safety measures before proceeding.