The NCAA released updated COVID-19 guidance on Thursday for winter sports that recognizes athletes with natural immunity from previous coronavirus infection as equivalent to being "fully vaccinated." The new guidance also defines "fully vaccinated" as having taken both primary doses of a COVID vaccine as well as a third booster shot.
"The omicron variant has presented another surge of cases across the country," NCAA chief medical officer Brian Hainline said. "This guidance was designed to align with the latest public health directives. Given how the pandemic continues to evolve, it's important that staff on member campuses continue to work with their local and state health officials on protocols most suitable for their locations."
Under the new winter guidelines, the NCAA COVID-19 Medical Advisory Group defines "fully vaccinated" as any person who within two months has completed the primary dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine; with five months has completed the primary series of the mRNA Pfizer vaccine; or within six months has completed the primary series of the mRNA Moderna vaccine (two doses for both); and who has received a booster shot after the appropriate time period for each respective vaccine.
"A person who has had a documented COVID-19 infection in the past 90 days is considered the equivalent of 'fully vaccinated,'" the guidelines also state.
The NCAA has also changed its quarantine and isolation requirements following recent updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People who contract COVID-19 are required to quarantine for just five days after a positive test and may end their isolation if they have no symptoms or symptoms are resolving after that period. After leaving quarantine, a person who tested positive must wear a face mask for another five days. On the sixth day after quarantine ends, student-athletes can fully participate in athletic activities provided they have a negative PCR/NAAT test or antigen test.
This is a significant change in policy that means any athlete, vaccinated or unvaccinated, may play games five days after a positive COVID-19 test as long as they test negative for the virus.
The NCAA said that close contacts of a person who tests positive for COVID-19 do not need to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated or if they have recovered from a recent coronavirus infection but should wear a mask around others for 10 days when not actively training or competing. People will not be required to wear masks during athletic activities.
The guidance is for student-athletes, coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, medical staff, equipment, and NCAA officials, but these rules are not mandates. Conferences and schools may choose whether to observe the NCAA guidelines or create their own rules for student athletics based on recommendations from their local health departments, Sports Illustrated reported.