CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa athletics spends $230K on hotel stays for coronavirus-positive student-athletes

Other University of Iowa students who test positive stay in residence halls

University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta in August. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta in August. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

The University of Iowa Athletic Department has spent more than $230,000 since June putting about 180 COVID-19-positive student-athletes up in hotel rooms and paying for their food.

The total includes $192,713 on 1,665 nights in an undisclosed Iowa City area hotel between June 1 and Sept. 30, according to data the Athletics Department provided after a Gazette request.

On six occasions, or 48 night stays, student-athletes shared rooms. Deducting that from the total night stays amounts to 1,617, which divided by the total cost comes to about $120 per room per night.

The UI paid another $40,983 on per diem payments for student-athlete food while they were in hotel isolation.

UI Housing and Dining has made 250 to 300 residence hall rooms across campus available for students to use for quarantine and isolation. But Andy Peterson, a UI pediatrician and head team physician, said the Athletic Department decided to have most student-athletes stay in the hotel because they live off campus with other student-athletes.

“While not all student-athletes are directed to a hotel, in many cases this has been determined as the ideal location for isolation and reducing additional contact with a roommate/teammate,” he said in an email.

COVID costs

COVID-19 has pummeled college sports program across the country. The UI Athletics Department in September projected a $75 million deficit for this year, primarily due to lost TV revenue from football.

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Athletic Director Gary Barta cut four sports — men’s tennis, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, and men’s gymnastics — Aug. 21. Supporters of these sports have raised about $3 million to save the sports, but so far haven’t gotten traction with Athletics administrators.

Not only is there lost revenue, but programs must spend more on testing and protective equipment to try to keep student-athletes safe.

UI student-athletes with positive COVID-19 tests stayed from one night to 15 nights in the hotel, records show. The median stay was 10 nights.

This is consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations that someone who tested positive for the disease may stop isolating 10 days after symptoms first appeared, at least 24 hours with no fever and most other symptoms are improving.

“We are following the guidance of our medical professionals that have required a 10-day isolation for those individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19, and a 14-day quarantine for those individuals who have been identified as having close contact with a known positive,” said Barbara Burke, deputy athletic director.

The UI can’t release the names of student-athletes who have tested positive for COVID-19 because of student privacy and medical privacy laws, but some players have shared the information.

Men’s basketball player Jordan Bohannon said he and six other teammates tested positive for the disease in early August, the Des Moines Register reported. Bohannon, a senior, said he had a fever, chills and vomiting.

“I couldn’t even lay my head on a pillow without wanting to start crying,” he told Chad Leistikow in a September interview.

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UI Athletics announced Aug. 31 all sports practices would be shut down through Sept. 7 because of 93 positive tests Aug. 24-30. That surge of cases is mirrored in the hotel isolation numbers, which show 19 student-athletes isolating in June, 22 in July, 105 in August and 39 in September.

Big Ten protocols

Players who test positive can’t return to their sport for 21 days, according to Big Ten protocols.

While in isolation, student-athletes have to undergo cardiac testing and be cleared by a cardiologist before they can return to play, said James Torner, a UI professor of epidemiology, surgery and neurosurgery who is serving as the Athletic Department’s chief infection officer, a new position required by the Big Ten.

Torner told the Presidential Committee on Athletics Oct. 1 student-athletes in hotel isolation take a survey each morning about their health status, including mental health.

“If it reaches a trigger level, sports psychology gets in touch with the athletes,” Torner said.

Meghan Conroy, a junior field hockey player and officer with the Iowa Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, told the PCA she recently had completed a second quarantine after being around someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

“If you’ve been encountered someone positive in past 72 hours, you have to go into quarantine,” she said. “If you’re not in your apartment, you’re wearing your mask around everyone.”

Big Ten fall sports, including field hockey, cross-country, volleyball and soccer, have been postponed with the possibility they can play in the spring.

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But the conference decided Sept. 15 to allow a late-start football season. Iowa will play its first game of the season Saturday at Purdue.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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