Student-athletes get COVID-19 tests 3 times a week, while experts say testing for other students is lagging

Public health experts say Texas universities should increase testing of all students to prevent community spread of the coronavirus as classes resume.                    Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune
Public health experts say Texas universities should increase testing of all students to prevent community spread of the coronavirus as classes resume. Credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

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Athletics officials at Texas universities spent months planning for a fall football season during a pandemic. As conferences deliberated how teams could safely compete in the age of coronavirus, proponents hoped enhanced coronavirus testing for athletes would ease any lingering doubts.

It worked. Within the month, five major Texas football programs are slated to play. In football and other high contact sports like soccer and volleyball, athletes will be tested three times a week, according to directives from the Big 12 Conference and Southeastern Conference.

For teams competing on a Saturday, that might mean a test Sunday, another Wednesday, and a final, rapid-results test Friday, said Kenny Boyd, a Baylor University senior associate athletic director. Non-conference opponents must also adhere to testing protocols that match conference standards.

Conference and school officials say enhanced testing for sports is necessary to protect athletes, support staff and the teams they compete against. It’s an impressive regimen, public health experts agree. But that same level of testing is not available to other Texas college students — even those living in high-risk settings like dorms.

Universities don’t follow the same testing methods and report cases differently, so there’s no way to compare outcomes since classes began again.

Texas A&M University reported 327 new positive tests the week ending Aug. 29, down slightly from the 371 it reported a week prior. Between Sept. 1 and Sept. 3, The University of Texas at Austin reported 103 new positive cases, more than doubling in three days the amount it reported for all of August. Baylor also reported 101 new cases during that time frame.

Public health experts say schools need to dramatically ramp up testing in order to catch “silent spread” fueled by students who are infected but don’t have symptoms.