About 90% of University of Wisconsin athletes are vaccinated against COVID-19 and aren't subject to regular testing, an athletic department official said Friday.
Michael Moll, UW's assistant athletic director for sports medicine, told the Athletic Board that the level of vaccinated individuals in the department mirrors that of the campus population as a whole.
He said the athletic department hasn't mandated vaccinations, so it hasn't asked why roughly 10% of athletes haven't received a vaccine.
The Badgers already have been impacted by COVID-19 protocols this season, but Moll said the number of cases and spread among athletes are well below levels seen at the start of the fall semester in 2020.
Leo Chenal, a starting linebacker on the Badgers football team, missed last Saturday's season opener. He posted on Instagram that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would miss the first two games.
Moll said confirmed positive cases trigger an examination of others who could be considered close contacts. If they are unvaccinated, they are ordered to go through a 10-day isolation period per UW-Madison guidelines.
If those who are vaccinated are considered to be close contacts — a designation that carries an imprecise definition, Moll admitted — they are advised to use precautions and will be tested for COVID-19 after three to five days.
"In essence, a lot of unvaccinated individuals have been told they're likely going to be quarantined" if they're a close contact of someone who tests positive on their team, Moll said.
Unvaccinated UW players are required to be tested two or three times per week, Moll said, using the same campus resources as non-athlete students. The testing protocols have to be altered for teams that travel for extended periods.
The Big Ten moved regulation of testing procedures from a conference level last school year to the campus level in 2021-22. Cardiac testing for those who have COVID-19 no longer is mandated; at UW, a decision on whether that's needed is taken by doctors based on symptoms, Moll said.
"That very much was something our physicians were supportive of," he said.
Players returning from a COVID-19 infection still are required to go through a return-to-play progression after their 10-day isolation, Moll said.
UW athletics is in a "much better spot" with COVID-19 infection than it was last year at the start of the fall semester, Moll said. He said 17% of the athletic department's cases in the 2020-21 school year were reported in the first week of classes.
The department has experienced "a couple" breakthrough infections of vaccinated individuals, he said, but not a significant number.
"Among the infections, we're not seeing much spread right now," said Moll, who then knocked on the table in front of him. "Which is, I think, attributed to some of our high vaccination rates."
Some Badgers fans have been critical of what they saw as lax enforcement of mask-wearing policies at last Saturday's football game against Penn State, the first at Camp Randall Stadium with fans during the pandemic.
UW doesn't require masks to be worn in the seating bowl or concourse, only in indoor areas of the stadium. Athletic director Chris McIntosh said UW will attempt to emphasize the importance of wearing a mask to fans.
McIntosh also apologized to fans for long wait times at concession stands, something he and other athletic department officials have attributed to a shortage of game-day workers.
"We will try to get better," McIntosh said.