The Sylva Herald, By Carey Phillips

Western Carolina has reported seven student-athletes tested positive for COVID-19 last month.

Meanwhile the Catamount athletic department is waiting for direction from the NCAA Board of Governors and Southern Conference chancellors to determine the path forward for fall sports.

“We administered 145 tests to the limited number of student-athletes we welcomed back on July 14, along with staff working in close proximity to them,” Athletic Director Alex Gary said. “Seven tests were positive for COVID-19, and each individual was asymptomatic.”

As part of the protocols established in the return to campus plan by WCU and in consultation with local and national officials and guidelines, those with a positive test were placed into isolation for 10 days and their close contacts were quarantined.

“We remain committed to the health and well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and the community for the anticipated resumption of fall sports,” Gary said.

The NCAA Board of Governors, was to meet Tuesday to vote on whether or not there will be fall championships. Chancellors of Southern Conference schools had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday to discuss how the Board of Governors’ decision will impact fall sporting events for the conference, according to Gary.

Results of those meetings were not known at the Herald sports deadline.

The seven WCU COVID-19 cases were not considered a cluster because they did not meet the definition of “a plausible linkage between the cases.”

“The WCU student-athletes were required to self-quarantine for seven days before arriving on campus and then tested upon arrival,” said Melissa McKnight, deputy director of the Jackson County Department of Public Health. “Since the student-athletes had little to no interaction with each other prior to testing, we have found no plausible linkage between the cases. It is more likely that those who tested positive were exposed to and contracted the virus from people other than their student-athlete peers.”

McKnight said whether WCU students who test positive will be included in Jackson County’s case total or in the cases for their home county will depend on the address they give their healthcare provider when they get tested.

“If they give a Jackson County address, it will immediately come to JCDPH and be counted in our total,” she said. “If they gave their parents’ address, it will go to the health department where their parents live.”

She added that each health department does “case investigation” where they call those who test positive to seek additional information such as “Where are you residing right now?”

“If the health department staff member finds out that the student is actually in Jackson County, they will forward the case to us,” McKnight said. “We will be able to include the positive student in our case count then.”