Although the pandemic restrictions seem to be lifting, athletes at Concordia College aren’t moving away from proactive measures just yet.
Concordia is mandating vaccination for all students participating in college-sponsored travel, such as travel for athletic competitions.
With the new vaccination mandate, athletics are following updated guidelines from last year.
Rachel Bergeson is the athletic director at Concordia and explains the new guidelines.
“Concordia and our conference are following the NCAA COVID plan in terms of masking, testing and quarantine. Although for the quarantine policies, they say to refer to the local guidance,” Bergeson said.
The biggest changes to the regulations regard masking and testing. Athletes are not allowed to mask during practice or competition no matter vaccination status. This does change, however, if a student is in close contact. A vaccinated athlete will mask until able to provide a negative COVID test, whereas an unvaccinated athlete will quarantine until tested.
Unlike the masking rules, testing requirements are more intensive this year. Head athletic trainer Don Bruenjes explains the guidelines.
“Right now, we follow the NCAA and Minnesota rules which state that anyone who is tier one, the main coaching staff or those working directly with the team, must be fully vaccinated or must be tested weekly and within three days of a competition,” said Bruenjes. This also applies to unvaccinated student athletes.
In addition to masking and testing rules, an athlete must have either a vaccination or an approved exemption from the college to participate in collegiate athletics.
Bergeson was not able to give an exact number of athletes who have quit or been removed from official team rosters because of refusal to get the vaccine. Those who do not wish to get the vaccine must either file an exemption or leave the team.
There are two kinds of exemptions that Concordia upholds which are medical or conscientious exemptions. A student must submit either a doctors’ note or a written response for religious exemption.
Data specialist Eric Eliason processes vaccination exemption requests for Concordia. An exemption request takes approximately two business days to process, Eliason estimated.
Concordia “values and honors the role of religion in life” and strives to accommodate various religions, according to Eliason.
When it comes to processing a request for exemption, Eliason tries to “take each one by itself.” He hopes to gauge which ones are sincere requests, specifically for religious exemptions.
With most students either vaccinating or filing exemptions, Bruenjes has high hopes for the coming year.
“A vast majority of our students have decided to start the vaccination process. Initially, there was some push back, but for the most part, the number we are waiting for to get the exemption is quite low,” Bruenjes said.
Moreover, Bergeson argues that vaccinations give Concordia the best chance of having a complete season.
“When you are vaccinated and in close contact you don’t have to be quarantined, so you can still participate. This prevents us from having a lot of students quarantined and having to cancel competitions,” said Bergeson. This ensures that not only do individual athletes have a high chance of a full season, but so does the team as whole.
While vaccinations may prove to be beneficial, Bergeson reminds students that “vaccinations do not eliminate risk, but reduce risk.”
Because of this, the athletics department is continuing to practice social distancing when possible, increasing sanitation of shared equipment or gear and decreasing the time spent in locker rooms. This way, Bergeson hopes, the spread of COVID is diminished in the athletics department.
“There are people in our community that can’t be vaccinated for certain reasons. If we have any of those individuals on our campus and within our teams, I want to be able to provide them with the best chance to compete safely as well. The best way to do that is for those around them to be vaccinated,” said Bergeson.
Overall, the new protocols are put in place to help Concordia achieve a full season of athletics. Bergeson shares the importance of sports for students on campus.
“I am a firm believer that athletics is a part of the overall educational experience. There are a lot of things that we learn from athletics, for instance how to fail publicly, how to win graciously, how to compete,” Bergeson said.
Not only are sports beneficial for students, but also for Concordia as well. Sports “recruit a good student body and keeps visibility on the college as a whole and allows us to talk about the message of Concordia,” said Bruenjes.
“This year our goal is to make it all feel more normal and look more like what it has been in the past. So far, we have been able to do that,” Bergeson reflected. “Last weekend, we had a lot of home events and when I saw our teams run out onto the field or court, I just took a deep breath—we finally got here. We feel like we are finally back.”