First, and this adds significant real-life context to the discussion we’ve been having, Pitt POV reader and commenter Russ Broman passed away yesterday. The cause of death was Coronavirus. Russ posted under the handle “RKB”, and was known for his outspoken opinions. Russ contracted COVID while working as an assistant DA in the Allegheny County Courthouse. Sadly, it’s possible that his death could have been avoided.
Per a July 13th article by KDKA:
Before going into the hospital, Broman filed a complaint against the Allegheny County court system with OSHA — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — and the family’s attorney directed KDKA’s Andy Sheehan to speak with Nightingale, one of several friends who Broman emailed, complaining of a lack for safety protocols in the courthouse and alleging that one judge, in particular, did not require masks in her courtroom.
“His message called into question court administration’s saying they’re doing everything possible to notify people who have been exposed, the masking guidelines were being strictly followed. It was, in my opinion, a plea for help and a cry for transparency,” said Nightingale.
Prior to the courts reopening the first week of June, President Judge Kim Berkley Clark ordered that all employees and judges wear masks. And after a court reporter tested positive, Clark sent out a letter on June 26 reaffirming that order.
“I have received reports that not everyone, including judges, is wearing a mask or face covering during court proceedings….Not wearing a mask is disrespectful and sends a message to the public and attorneys, that we care more about our personal comfort than we do about their safety. Failure to socially distance sends the same message,” Clark said in the letter.
And so, here we are. A good man has died because people were not wearing masks, and possibly because the court was not aggressive enough in implementing video conferencing and enforcing social distancing. Per a July 14th Trib article:
The District Attorney’s Office and President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark have confirmed a number of cases among attorneys and court employees. They include:
- Two of the people who tested positive work in the courthouse. They tested positive on June 25 and July 2.
- One works in the City-County Building and tested positive July 4.
- One works in pretrial services and tested positive June 30.
- One works in the family division and tested positive June 30. This employee was working from home.
- One worked at Judge Anthony DeLuca’s Penn Hills office and tested positive July 5.
- A Pittsburgh Municipal Court employee who tested positive July 5.
- An employee in the probation office tested positive June 30.
Clark, in light of the infections, put some restrictions on in-person hearings through Friday. She pushed for attorneys in the District Attorney’s office and defense counsel alike to use videoconferencing whenever possible.
“This may be our ‘new normal’ in that it is unclear how this pandemic will develop,” she said in a July 7 email. “A very large portion of criminal cases are pleas which can easily be done remotely.”
Reading this, and taking it in context with the other article, it would seem that Broman’s infection and subsequent OCSHA compliant are what spurred additional actions. If that’s the case, it’s extremely saddening that he ultimately had to die in order for COVID to be taken seriously.
On the POV’s behalf, I would like to express our condolences to Russ’ family. His contributions to the POV community will be missed. Here is an excellent TribLive article that speaks to Broman’s career, and the people who knew him at work.
And so with this hitting so close to home, perhaps it puts the #wewanttoplay movement into a new light. How safe is college football? And would there be a situation like RKB that would leave us all shaking our heads? Quite possibly.
And yet, there are differences.
First, The Allegheny Courthouse was not diligently following protocols, nor enforcing them. And on top of that Russ was in a high risk category (over 64, with pre-existing conditions and history of lung infections – per a comment he posted on this blog on May 25th.)
On the other hand, College teams are diligently following protocols, and college players are one of the lowest-risk demographics in the world. The COVID death rate for those under 25 in the US in minuscule. There are some coaches that are high risk, but it’s possible to identify them and take the appropriate cautionary measures. I highly doubt that the Allegheny County courthouse made such an effort.
Still, overall risk for players and coaches is elevated. If there are 5000 FBS players that play, and there is a 2% infection rate, 100 players will get sick. But…. of those 100, statistically all of them are likely to survive. Per the below graph, the mortality rate per 1000 people age 18-29 is 0.1%. That’s one-tenth of one percent. That is literally a 99.9% survival rate. Coaches 50-64 have a 97% probability of surviving. Coaches 65+ (and how many of them are there?) have a 90% probability of surviving…if they even contract the disease. For guys that put their health on the line every single time they walk out onto the field (players) or for guys that have spent their lives around that kind of culture (coaches), you’d have to think they will take those odds, right, wrong or indifferent.
There are potential heart issues, though.
Dennis Dodd: Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) has emerged as a major concern in Big Ten’s decision [to cancel the season]– and possibly all of college football. COVID-19 victims are contracting myocarditis. Heart issues mentioned by NCAA and Big 12. I’ve written about it. So have others. Huge right now.
Pete Thamel: Update on the Pac-12: Pac-12 coaches and ADs got a sobering medical perspective from a group of Pac-12 doctors last night. Source called it “eye opening” and the information on myocarditis “made it real.” 1/2
The doctors also expressed concern about proximity that comes with full-contact practice. “It’s all in the presidents’ hands,” said a source. 2/2
And yet, as usual, there is conflicting evidence. Though it is hardly conclusive. Per David Hale on Twitter: Miami and VT both did studies of their pre-pandemic practices and found VERY limited contact between individual athletes. Aside from some linemen, the likelihood is that 2 specific players would enter a 6-foot radius of each other for < 2 min/game.
Talked with Manny Diaz about this in depth. He was the first to study it, noting that it was crazy to make decisions without hard data. Shared his info with the rest of the ACC. VT’s study backed up Miami’s results.
The caveat from Diaz was that, while CDC guidelines say < 15 mins is preferred limit for day-to-day stuff, exposure in a football game would be at a different level — literal blood, sweat & tears (and other things). So is 2 mins of contact too much? Hard to say.
From a contact tracing standpoint though, coaches I’ve talked to seemed to think that, aside from (possibly) the OL/DL, even a positive test would not require significant quarantining of other players who might’ve practiced alongside the infected person.
Dr. Cameron Wolfe, Duke Infectious Disease Specialist has weighed in as well (full article here):
“We believe we can mitigate it down to a level that makes everyone safe,” Wolfe told The Daily. “Can we safely have two teams meet on the field? I would say yes. Will it be tough? Yes. Will it be expensive and hard and lots of work? For sure. But I do believe you can sufficiently mitigate the risk of bringing COVID onto the football field or into the training room at a level that’s no different than living as a student on campus.”
“You can’t tell me that running onto a football field is supposed to be a zero-risk environment,” Wolfe continued. “Look at all of the regular sporting injuries that we accept as a certain level of risk as part and parcel of football. Now the reality is that we have to accept a little bit of COVID risk to be a part of that.”
Here is another article with COVID takes by Wolfe.
“We have to co-exist with COVID. I like that saying because it summarizes a reality that this virus isn’t going anywhere. Whilst it ebbs and flows, we’re not going to see it ebb to zero anytime soon.” Wolfe said he has tried “not to be cataclysmic” about COVID. “This is not Ebola,” he said. “It doesn’t have the lethality or the infectivity. So, certain mitigation efforts can be incredibly helpful. We’ve seen that in other countries — sadly not in the United States — where good infection control and good regimented management have allowed groups to co-exist with this virus really well.”
And so, the ACC seems to have a medical basis for trying to make the season work. It’s probably going to involve a lot of testing, and a lot of rules. The common feeling is that not all the players on all the teams are going to be able to follow through on following all these rules. Still, teams are going to control what they are going to control, and if the players want it bad enough, they’ll toe the line. I suspect that some players on some teams will toe it harder than others. Culture will help. Pitt prides itself on its team culture, has strong senior leadership and a locker room that is stocked exclusively with intelligent and committed young men, and I personally think they will step up. Other teams? Who knows.
There is also the institutional piece. What are different programs doing? Here is a look at some of the protocols Pitt has implemented (thanks to EJ Borghetti for providing the below bullet points). As you’d expect from a University with a Top Medical program, Pitt seems to be proactively addressing the heart issues. See the third bullet below.
- Any Pitt student-athlete who tests positive will be placed into isolation for a minimum of 10 days—and three days after all symptoms clear (which includes being free of a fever without taking any medication). If needed, isolation housing will be arranged. Contract tracing is done to identify any close contacts. Should a close contact become symptomatic, COVID testing will be arranged for the individual that day.
- Student-athletes who test positive will be continuously monitored and engaged during their isolation period. The Pitt sports medicine staff will communicate daily—multiple times—with them in order to monitor their symptoms and well-being as well as to provide continued COVID-19 education. They also will receive outreach from Pitt’s mental health staff. Meals will be delivered during their entire isolation period and a small care package of thermometers and over-the-counter medicines will be provided.
- Once isolation ends, the student-athlete will receive bloodwork and an electrocardiogram (EKG). A virtual appointment with a team physician will be conducted to determine clearance for a return to workouts.
Outside of the medical protocols there is prevention. It appears that Pitt is sanitizing individual helmets after each practice. What else are they doing that we don’t see? Probably a lot.
Of course if the ACC moves forward (and it seems like they are going to try), staying COVID-free is going to come down to individual decisions by individual players. Will an historically undisciplined program like a Florida State or a Miami be able to step up to the plate? What if their season goes off the rails? There is literally nothing we can do but wait.
While you are waiting, read this:
Back to football, the latest breaking news is that the Big 12 has apparently decided to play. If the ACC and the SEC stay the course, that will probably provide a critical mass to keep hope for a fall season afloat. Still, in this wild-and-woolly 2020, don’t expect things not to change, and at this point next week we might all be talking about the season that might have been. Let’s hope that’s not the case.
Hail to Pitt