First of all I pray and hope everyone is doing well and staying safe. This is an unprecedented time we are living in. I first became aware of the rumblings with COVID-19 in January as we were about to host one of the Super Bowl teams. At that time, like many of us, I didn’t put much thought into it as it appeared to be a far-away problem. You know, out of sight out of mind. But as we got into February I started to hear more about it and our campus emergency management team started to reach out to me with regard to how athletics was preparing for our events. As we got into March and hosting our golf tournament, my athletic director reached out to me, and our senior associate director of performance, health, and wellness, and started asking questions about what steps we were taking to protect our athletes and our facilities.
From then on things have never looked the same. That same week I received a call from our emergency management director asking what additional steps we were taking at our baseball games and to please increase the use of hand sanitizers. My staff scrambled to move sanitizer stations from other buildings and then went to the local grocery stores to see if they could find more hand sanitizer. As we got into mid-March, tournaments and other events started being canceled and I knew, at that point, we had a monster on our hands. Being in facilities I also knew this was something I was going to have to deal with head on.
My staff and I went from planning track meets and baseball games to taking the necessary steps to ensure our facilities were safe and secure. This meant working with our emergency management department and our third party cleaning contractor. We increased our sanitizing stations at our main entrances, printed the CDC guidelines and posted that information at all the facility entrances and restrooms. Then we began increasing cleaning in our facilities. From restrooms, to locker rooms, to training rooms, and weight rooms it was extremely important to ensure these areas were sanitized and cleaned appropriately. As we got later into March local officials began closing businesses and implemented social distancing guidelines. I sent a message to all of our staff on the initial steps we were taking to combat the virus and reminded them of the CDC guidelines for washing hands and social distancing. We also began weekly conference calls with our crisis decision team to receive updates on campus operations and decisions, as well as local, county, state, and federal guidelines, and how each were managing the pandemic. To say the least, listening to so many entities can be mind boggling but you have to be attentive and focused and ensure you are getting the most updated, accurate information as possible to not only implement but to pass along to staff and student athletes.
As we got in April it became apparent this virus may last a while and no one knows when things will get back to normal. From a facilities perspective we continued to ensure our facilities were closed but operational. Our emergency management director reached out about an athletics plan for re-opening and how this was a crucial part of the overall campus plan to re-open. I can’t stress enough having a good relationship with your campus partners. So I started working on contingency plans. Our campus is in the land of hurricanes, so we are constantly preparing for emergencies and disasters, I must admit though, none quiet like this. At the University of Miami we have an UReady Continuity plan that the university requires so with that structure, along with information from the emergency management office, I developed a comprehensive plan that details how we would re-open. This included testing our operational systems for functionality, working with our third party cleaning vendor for sanitizing and cleaning, taking an inventory of supplies and ordering what was needed, and then finally staggering our staff and sports programs to phase them back into campus life. Staggering staff and student athletes back to campus is partly not to overwhelm the system but more importantly not to introduce any potential infections into the campus community. As well, I started working with external partners on what it would look like to potentially host events in the fall.
The university’s football team plays at an NFL stadium so I began working with the stadium management on planning and what steps the stadium and the NFL are taking to get ready for the fall, including sanitizing and cleaning and how social distancing can be achieved in a stadium. Planning is on-going and we continue to communicate regularly as it is important that the stadium and athletics send out the same message.
Recently, I started working with our internal units on face masks, coverings for student athletes, and products and materials needed to ensure everyone is safe when we do return to campus. As more and more states start the process of re-opening I am trying to envision what that might look like. Face mask every day will probably be a new model and increased cleaning and wiping down weight rooms and training rooms more frequently will be in the plan. Social distancing guidelines in stadiums and arenas and how this will impact attendance, parking lots, concession stands, etc., will remain to be seen. These new rules and models will continue to evolve as more guidelines are created however, we have to be prepared for the ever changing world that is now upon us.