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Eastern Oregon University’s Megan Still hits a 3-pointer during a Cascade Collegiate Conference game in February 2020 against the College of Idaho. The conference has announced its Return to Play Plan for intercollegiate athletics.

CORVALLIS — The Cascade Collegiate Conference announced the adoption of a comprehensive Return to Play Plan for intercollegiate athletics.

The CCC announced the plan Saturday, Oct. 31, with the release of a 30-page “Return to Play Protocol Manual” that includes “strict daily wellness screening, weekly PCR testing and stringent procedures for mitigating against the introduction and spread of COVID-19,” according to the CCC’s press release.

“Prioritizing the health of our student athletes and their school communities guided our development of a safe return to play plan,” Commissioner Robert Cashell said in the press release, adding the conference has worked during the past several months to combine National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, state and local public health guidelines, in addition to its own mandatory testing protocols “to develop what we believe is a very sound and robust plan for all of our offered sports.”

The conference is requiring PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing for the sports of basketball, wrestling, football, soccer and volleyball.

The conference reported it found a unique option for testing, establishing a partnership with Sarah Comstock, associate professor of science at Corban University, Salem, and Santiam Hospital, Stayton. The arrangement provides the CCC with saliva testing for COVID-19. Comstock will be using the SalivaDirect method the Yale School of Medicine developed, which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization.

All testing will be performed in a CLIA-certified lab at Santiam Hospital, which is required for all COVID-19 tests that have received the EUA. Since this is not a “kit-based” test, it preserves typical supply chains, which is a concern for other proprietary and point of care tests.

“It’s our understanding that we are the only conference in the NAIA, with this level of required testing,” Cashell said in the press release. “Many individual schools are testing, but as a league we set a standard threshold for safety that all of our members must take part if they wish to participate during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The NAIA is the conference’s national organization.

The SalivaDirect test method has been showing a false-negative rate as low as 7.3% as compared to up to 30% false-negative of a point of care antigen test. The antigen testing often requires a follow-up molecular based test to confirm results. The SalivaDirect is a PCR test, which the conference’s press release stated is considered the gold standard for testing.

The conference reported its basketball teams conducted a trial of the testing procedures to verify the process meets expectations. Each school went through the steps of sample collection, packaging and shipping under the guidance of certified athletic trainers. Test results were completed within 24-30 hours of receipt at the lab.

In July, the CCC announced the movement of fall sports to winter/spring with the NAIA making the same decision shortly thereafter moving fall national championships.

Basketball is scheduled to begin league play Dec 4, volleyball on Jan. 28 and men’s and women’s soccer Feb. 12, pending work with state public health authorities. Wrestling championships are in mid-February, cross-country championships are scheduled for March 26 and men’s and women’s golf will compete in all four CCC tournaments between March and April.

Spring sport schedules remained as originally scheduled.

The CCC also stated it could update its Return to Play Plan based on emerging guidance, as well as, any state or local health authority mandates.

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