Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa baseball players question positive COVID-19 tests that shut down program

With season approaching, 4 Hawkeyes in quarantine say they got negative results from rapid tests at Hy-Vee

The Iowa dugout at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The Iowa dugout at Duane Banks Field in Iowa City. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — They feel anxious, bored, guilty, but physically fine. That last thing makes them feel curious and more than a bit upset.

University of Iowa baseball players Drew Irvine, Ben Norman, Jack Radford and Jack Guzek say they tested positive Tuesday for COVID-19, which prompted the program to be shut down for an unspecified amount of time. The Hawkeyes are scheduled to begin their season March 6 against Michigan at Round Rock, Texas.

This is the second time the quartet have tested positive, but, unlike the first, which came in the fall, none of them have symptoms. That and other reasons make them think perhaps the results of their university-issued PCR tests may be inaccurate, and they are upset they are not being allowed to take another one to confirm.

“I’m not a doctor, I don’t know,” Irvine said Friday, from the local hotel the four are being isolated. “I’m just confused by the fact that none of us have symptoms and tested negative (last week), and now we’re popping a positive on a PCR test that we feel was done incorrectly. That’s it. It’s just super weird.”

Per protocols, Irvine — a sophomore pitcher from Waukee — said the team has been given a PCR test once a week, though now that the season is so near, daily antigen rapid tests will be given to players, coaches and support staff beginning next week. The PCR tests take longer to process but are considered the gold standard and more accurate test.

A positive rapid test is followed up by a PCR test to confirm a COVID diagnosis. He said the four were shocked to learn they were positive because they’d had COVID once and recovered, and, like the rest of their teammates, had basically been doing nothing but going from home to practice and back home, with the exception of perhaps grabbing a to-go meal somewhere.

That and questioning the way Tuesday’s test was administered in a different manner than any others they’d taken and by an athletics trainer they weren’t familiar with made them decide to go to a local Hy-Vee store to get a rapid test. Those all came back negative.

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He said teammate Austin Martin had done the same thing two weeks ago after taking a PCR test that was positive. Martin’s test was discounted because his recovery from COVID had come less than the 90 days recommended by health officials to be retested.

It is believed you can continue to test positive up to three months after initial infection, even though your symptoms have abated. To be extra cautious, Irvine said Martin went and got an independent rapid test which came back negative and made him feel comfortable continuing to practice.

Irvine said he, Norman (a senior starting center fielder from Des Moines), Guzek (a sophomore pitcher) and Radford (a senior pitcher) sent emails to Iowa athletics director Gary Barta and head athletics team physician Dr. Andrew Peterson to explain their situation. Their rapid tests will not be accepted, and Irvine said the four must continue their isolation until Feb. 26.

He said the entire Iowa team was given PCR tests again Friday — all tests cam back negative.

“So we’re all just kind of confused about what a lot of guys are saying is a lack of common sense,” he said. “It doesn’t make any logical sense to us why you test everyone who was negative but not give the positive guys another test. If it’s about money, then why put four of us in a hotel for 10 days, give us $1,000 total on our per-diem cards (to eat), then also on top of that pay for a (heart) MRI for all four of us after 10 days?

“It’s just confusing all of us. We’re out for 10 days, our team is out for seven days on top of it, so close to the season, we just feel like it isn’t fair. I don’t think any other school is going through this ... No other school is having this issue. It’s weird that it’s coming up now.”

In a statement, Peterson said he understood the players’ frustrations but defended the protocols in place.

“Navigating the medical protocols associated with the pandemic has created challenges and we understand the impact this has had on our student-athletes and coaches,” he said. “We remain focused on balancing the concerns of ensuring the health and safety of our student-athletes and helping them return to training and competition as soon as possible. We continue to follow the guidance of the Big Ten Conference, NCAA, and local public health.”

Peterson said University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics provides “the highest quality COVID-19 testing available” and that student-athletes or athletics department personnel cannot test out of isolation. He said local public health regulations require at least a 10-day isolation.

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“We make efforts to mitigate the risk of false positives by using additional PCR testing around the time of return to the B1G testing pool and evaluating the strength of their positive test by using cycle thresholds,” Peterson said in the statement. “We do not take suspension of team activities lightly, but consider taking a pause when test positivity rate exceeds 5% and/or population positivity rate exceeds 7.5%, as directed by the Big Ten Conference. These steps, while rare, are important for controlling outbreaks as they occur in individual teams. Controlling an outbreak is important both for the health and safety of our athletes and for returning to training and competition as quickly as possible.”

That still does not soothe the feelings of Irvine, Norman, Guzek and Radford. Peterson will conduct a group Zoom meeting Sunday with any Iowa player and their families who want to talk with him.

Irvine stressed they are not blaming any single person for anything, but just wondered about the protocols in general.

“I feel horrible for my teammates,” he said. “I’ve been doing my part in quarantining, staying away from everyone, all my buddies here at the university. Nobody is going out, nobody is doing anything. We’re literally going to the field and then going back home. That’s what it is so frustrating. If everybody had been going out, not doing their part, it’d be a different story. But the fact that us quarantining and still coming up positive, we feel awful because we are the reason everything got shut down.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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