Dr. Stevan Whitt: SEC Conference’s COVID-19 Testing ‘Doesn’t Tell Us Anything’

SEC Championship logo on the field during the Southeastern Conference Championship NCAA college football game against the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018 in Atlanta. (Ric Tapia via AP)

Ric Tapia/Associated Press

Coronavirus testing is not among the recommendations laid out by the SEC’s 14-person Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force, and Dr. Stevan Whitt explained the rationale behind leaving it out.

In an interview with The Athletic’s Peter Baugh, Whitt offered his take on COVID-19 testing: “The problem is, with our testing, it doesn’t tell us anything.”

Whitt, who is an associate professor at the University of Missouri, laid out several reasons why coronavirus testing isn’t as effective as many assume. The nasal swab PCR test, in particular, won’t likely register a positive test in the first few days after someone has been exposed to COVID-19 or before they show symptoms, and the tests are known for both false positives and false negatives when test athletes as well.

Whitt also said that mass testing generally doesn’t work well within a population with a low rate of disease, which would be the case for SEC athletes:

“The infectious disease community does not believe in screening large populations of people who have very low incidents of disease as a scientific method of preventing further spread. It just does not seem to work. Now in areas with higher prevalence, totally different science. Because the prevalence is different, the outcomes are different, the interventions are different.”

All NCAA spring sports were canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and both the men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments were canceled as well.

It has long been assumed that college football and other fall sports could be in jeopardy of getting pushed back to a later start date, but the NCAA has a plan in place to get the season started on time.

On Thursday, the NCAA announced a proposed preseason model that will be voted upon by the Division I Council on Wednesday.

If passed, it will require players to participate in a set amount of weight training, conditioning and film review during a 14-day period in July and August before the official beginning of preseason practice in early August. 

Although Whitt is of the belief that coronavirus testing wouldn’t necessarily create a safer environment among college athletes, some professional sports leagues are taking the opposite approach.

Prior to the start of the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge on Thursday, 487 golfers, caddies and essential personnel were tested.

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Friday that all NBA players, coaches and essential team personnel will be tested for the coronavirus from June 23-30 before going to Orlando, Florida, to prepare for the resumption of the season.

While Whitt and the rest of the SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force haven’t deemed testing necessary, it is possible that the NCAA could before allowing teams to gather and prepare for the 2020 football season.

Bleacher Report’s David Gardner interviews athletes and other sports figures for the podcast How to Survive Without Sports.

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