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Coronavirus

Coronavirus concerns rise after outbreak on Boston College swim and dive team

Boston College is one of a small number of schools in the Northeast that is fielding athletic teams during the pandemic.
Boston College is one of a small number of schools in the Northeast that is fielding athletic teams during the pandemic.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Concerns about the health and safety of Boston College students rose Thursday, as the school shut down its women’s and men’s swimming and diving program for a minimum of two weeks after at least 13 team members tested positive for COVID-19.

Not everyone on the 41-member team has been quarantined, and some of those who tested positive for the virus were told to isolate in off-campus housing they share with other students, according to a person connected to the program and the parent of a BC student who is not on the team but lives close to swimmers infected with the virus.

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“My level of concern is huge because I don’t want my child to get sick,” the parent said. “I’m very concerned that BC, by sending these student-athletes with COVID-19 back to their off-campus housing with non-athletes, really hasn’t isolated them.”

The parent said the arrangement is "not fair to other students who live with them or nearby."

BC said the policy is consistent with how patients with the virus are isolated.

"Students who live in off-campus apartments and test positive for COVID-19 isolate in their rooms, just as they would isolate in their bedrooms at home," said Jason Baum, the school’s senior associate athletics director for communications.

BC reported Thursday that the total number of its undergraduates who are in isolation because of COVID-19 had more than doubled to 68, from 30 on Sunday. The report said 28 of the 68 were in "isolation housing," such as a hotel, while the other 40 were isolating "at home," including their permanent residences and apartments off campus.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among BC’s undergraduates stood at 46 Thursday, the school reported. The administration declined to say how many were student-athletes.

Several students, concerned they had been exposed to COVID-19 since the swimming and diving team’s outbreak, went off the campus Thursday to be tested for the contagion, parents said. Testing is available on campus, but the students worried about possible delays, their parents said.

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‘“My level of concern is huge because I don’t want my child to get sick. I’m very concerned that BC, by sending these student-athletes with COVID-19 back to their off-campus housing with non-athletes, really hasn’t isolated them.”’

A BC parent

An untold number of the swimming and diving team’s members live off campus, in the so-called "swim house" in Brighton. When the team convened Monday for its first practice of the season, a couple of swimmers reported feeling ill, although no evidence has surfaced to indicate the off-campus residence was the source of the illness.

By Wednesday, the toll of positive tests reached 13. The results of additional tests were due Thursday, but they have not been made publicly available.

Swimmers or divers who tested positive for the pathogen were sent home to isolate themselves, while teammates who were considered at risk of contracting the virus because of their previous proximity to those who were infected were placed in isolation at a Boston hotel, according to the person connected to the program. Others who practiced with the team Monday and were not deemed at risk were advised to return to their residences on and off campus.

BC is one of a small number of schools in the Northeast that is fielding athletic teams during the pandemic. In addition to football, BC’s women’s soccer, field hockey, and volleyball teams plan to play full schedules in the Athletic Coast Conference.

Meanwhile, the cross-country, golf, and sailing teams have been practicing, and the rowing team is scheduled to enter the water Sept. 15. The cross-country schedule has yet to be finalized. The golf team will not be competing this fall, and there will be no individual championships this season for the sailing team. The rowing team’s schedule has yet to be determined. But they continue practicing.

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Several BC students criticized the school’s decision not to forgo the fall athletic season.

"It’s incredible to me that BC decided to go through with sports," undergraduate Joseph Dronkers said. "It feels like outbreaks such as the swimming and diving program cluster were inevitable."

It remains to be seen how competitive BC’s swimming and diving teams will be after the COVID-19 setback. Both the men and women finished last in the ACC last season.

Greg Earhart, executive director of the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America, said of the BC outbreak, "That’s one reason why a lot of schools and coaches want to delay their seasons because they recognize they will have a better chance of actually having a season that doesn’t get interrupted time after time."

In a period of great uncertainty because of COVID-19, Earhart said, delaying the season gives "students, parents, and the scheduling folks one less thing to worry about."

He said schools "need to do what’s in the best interest of their students."

Student-athletes at BC are now being tested once a week for COVID-19.

Deirdre Fernandes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.