Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State developing, using technology to mitigate spread of COVID-19 in athletics

Face shields created by engineering program used for football team's helmets

A helmet and football sit on the field during media day for Iowa State football at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Sunday,
A helmet and football sit on the field during media day for Iowa State football at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014. (The Gazette)

AMES — Iowa State’s equipment operations staff was searching for face shields for football players to wear on their facemasks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

They searched various companies but couldn’t quite find what they were looking for. So they reached out to Iowa State’s nationally-ranked industrial and manufacturing systems engineering program to help them out.

“They came up with a pretty good product in terms of how it fits the helmet and what it can do,” said Mark Coberley, Iowa State’s associate athletics director for sports medicine, in an interview with Cyclones.tv.

It’s a clear shield that attaches to the inside part of the helmet’s facemask and looks a lot like a visor many players already have on their helmets.

“Whether it’ll prevent the spread of COVID-19 in terms of exposure, nobody has any data on that but we know that something is better than nothing,” Coberley said. “The shield won’t clear everybody to go play football without risk of exposure but we’re just trying to find more and more ways to keep people safer and safer as we learn more about COVID.

“It should help because how this virus gets transmitted is by being in close proximity and exchanging air with another person. If you put a barrier up, you have a lot less chance of it traveling from person to person.”

The face shields are just some of the new technologies Iowa State is using to combat the spread of COVID-19.

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Every morning, an automated text is sent out to every coach, student athlete and staff member with a questionnaire.

“The first thing we wanted to do is check in on everybody everyday to make sure they’re OK,” Coberley said. “Then, we don’t want people coming to the building with symptoms. The text goes out at 6:30 a.m. and asks them the exact same questions the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would want to know.

“If they do have anything going on, our medical staff is alerted immediately and then they can interview the person and get them the care they need. It takes a lot of manpower to monitor 500 athletes and another 200 staff daily.”

These technologies have helped Iowa State reduce the spread of COVID-19. Iowa State has had nine total positive tests in its entire athletics department — six in football — since football players were brought back to campus in June.

Coberley said there has been zero spread.

“We’ve been able to make this pretty safe,” Coberley said. “We’re not going to catch COVID here, it’s going to be brought here. The professional sports have found that out, too. It’s when the stuff outside of the sport happens like going to large gatherings and parties. What we don’t want is for somebody to get it and come to our facilities and have that transmitted through the activity.

“The failures that happen around the country happen because people make poor social decisions.”

Rutgers is an example of what happens when people don’t follow the correct procedures. NJ.com reported that Rutgers football had 28 positive tests from both players and staff after players attended a party. It had to shut down team activities and quarantine the whole team.

So what happens if Iowa State plays another school that hasn’t had the success Iowa State has had in managing COVID-19?

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“Those are some conversations that myself and (athletics director) Jamie (Pollard) have had early on,” Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell said. “Again, I think we put more into making sure the testing and the health and safety of our own players (comes) first. I’m not trying to skate around the question, but my knowledge and my time and my thought and energy is making sure we’re taking care of our own players.

“I think as we get into the month of August with the season quickly approaching, thinking about that question that you just posed is something I’ll be able to put a lot of time and effort into.”

The Big 12 announced it’s going to a schedule of nine conference games and one nonconference game. In a letter to Iowa State fans on Thursday, Pollard said it’s to build in more bye weeks in the schedule in case a team does have an outbreak. That way, maybe a Big 12 game can be postponed instead of canceled.

He added that he expects the conference season to start Sept. 26 and for the nonconference game to be Sept. 12.

“Jamie’s done a great job of doing that since I’ve known him,” Campbell said. “I think we’ll work together to make sure that no matter who or what we play, the health and safety of our own football team is at the forefront.”

l Comments: benv43@gmail.com

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