After Tour’s first positive test last week at Hilton Head, focus on health and safety takes renewed importance in Connecticut
Heading into the resumption of play this month, the PGA Tour had a plan in place for the safety of players, caddies and officials during the coronavirus pandemic. It seemingly had worked until Nick Watney tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday morning at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
The news might have shocked some observers, though an infection likely was inevitable, given the number of people that it takes to pull off a professional event. The Tour’s plan to allow players and caddies to remain on the grounds while awaiting test results might have to be rethought. The incident also should serve as a wakeup call for those who have felt a little too comfortable so far.
Even before the positive test result at Harbour Town, the Tour had planned to ramp up testing. As essential personnel arrived at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn., this week for the Travelers Championship, all media and volunteers also will be tested for COVID-19.
Much of the testing and guidelines not only have to do with how the Tour wants to proceed, but the local health protocols at each stop, too. With Connecticut being a higher-risk area of the country, local health officials were expected to recommend testing for everyone on the grounds, said Nathan Grube, the Travelers’ tournament director. It will be more costly for the tournament (700 to 800 saliva tests), but peace of mind is priceless during these extraordinary times.
The Travelers has had the benefit of not leading off the Tour’s restart and being able to hear from the Charles Schwab Challenge team about how things went. Staff at Colonial even sent a top-10 list of things that stuck out to their team and for future tournaments to implement. Last week, Justin Thomas remarked about the “zoo” atmosphere at Hilton Head, a vacation destination, as much of the general public acted as if the pandemic never happened. As players and officials arrive in Connecticut, a sense of security should prevail, but the true effects from Harbour Town will have to wait for the coming weeks.
As a reminder, here is what is expected from onsite personnel in order to maintain the PGA Tour's desired “bubble” by isolating them from the general public and encouraging social-distancing measures on and off the course.
For on-course personnel:
* Will undergo a RT-PCR nasal swab or saliva test before the tournament, with results returned within 48 hours. (Players and caddies who traveled to the tournament on the PGA Tour’s chartered flight will undergo a pre-travel test as well.)
* While awaiting results, players and caddies may go onsite for practice and play but will not be able to access facilities such as the clubhouse or other inside spaces.
* Following the initial test, there will be daily questionnaires and temperature screenings.
* In the event of a positive test, the Tour said the individual would be isolated immediately and required to self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days. (If a player tests positive after making the cut, he will be barred from completing the tournament and receive last-place earnings.)
* Along with the testing measures, the Tour will limit the number of personnel on the grounds. No family members will be allowed to attend the tournament, and players will be allowed only limited support personnel such as trainers and swing coaches.
* The Tour is chartering a flight to and from tournament sites and encouraging non-local players to travel on it. The chartered flight will have passengers using every other seat.
* The Tour will be issuing players a “resource guide,” which will detail what is expected of them on and off the course. If off-site protocols are not followed, players will be subject to the PGA Tour’s disciplinary process.
* Limit total number of media
* RT-PCR nasal swab or saliva test upon arrival
* Workspaces spread out in acceptable social-distancing manner
* Direct access to ShotLink via personal computers
* Media allowed on course but only outside the ropes
* No access in practice areas or locker room
* No pre-round partner interviews
* No local radio stations broadcasting live
* Tour will provide all face covers/masks and disinfectant wipes on property for all personnel, volunteers, players and caddies.
* Tour will cover the costs of all testing for players, caddies and essential staff.
* Tour will provide thermal scanning equipment to be used at all tournament entrances.
* Travelers Championship will provide all hand-sanitizer stations (contactless), pump bottles and travel bottles on property.
* Travelers Championship will be responsible for overall health, safety and hygiene on property in consultation with the Tour.
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