As the Vice-President, Tournament Administration for PGA TOUR in Ponte Vedra Beach, Andy Levinson has worked feverishly to get players back on the course as the world emerges from its lockdown created by COVID-19. THE PGA TOUR will resume play June 11-14 with the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Korn Ferry Challenge June 11-14 at TPC Sawgrass’ Valley Course. Levinson spoke in a conference call about the preparation ahead of the tournaments. Here are excerpts of that interview.
What convinced the PGA TOUR it’s safe to resume playing on your Tours?
Levinson: This is a plan that we have been developing over the course of the last two months with input from the PGA TOUR medical adviser Dr. Tom Hospel. We have also consulted with a professor from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and he is a professor at the Harvard Medical School who's an expert on infectious diseases, and we've been fortunate to have direct conversations with the Federal Coronavirus Task Force as well as other specialists and laboratory directors and in consultation with the other professional sports leagues. The foundation of this plan is our belief that we can conduct a PGA TOUR event throughout the entire property, with everybody practicing good social distancing. And we also will not execute this plan in a manner that impacts the resources and the communities in which we're playing.
Will participants and the essential support be required to submit to testing?
Levinson: And then for a population of the people that we will have on site, we will be implementing COVID 19 testing using the RT PCR nasal swab test, which is the most effective gold standard for diagnosing COVID 19, and potentially down the road as the testing advances, we may be able to move on to a saliva based testing collection.
So for the player and caddie group, we are going to be providing that group with a pre travel testing program, and the purpose of this is really for those individuals to understand whether or not they have the virus before they travel to a tournament market. And then upon arrival, everyone will report to a testing area, likely at a designated hotel, where they will undergo all three screening methods: The questionnaire, thermal reading, and a PCR test.
How will a positive test be handled?
In the event we have a positive test, we will comply with all local health authorities as well as CDC guidelines, and that would include isolating that individual and may require a period of isolation or an extended time. The CDC guidelines currently state 10 days after the first positive test with no subsequent symptoms or two negative test results at a minimum of 24 hours apart.
If a person tests positive, would the tournament be shut down?
Levinson: No, there's not a specific number that we're focused on. You know, when there is a positive test, there does have to be some contact tracing that takes place, which is why social distancing is one of the many reasons why social distancing is so important. And so we haven't identified a specific number, but obviously if it was a large number then we would have to evaluate the situation.
Would a positive test force a player to withdraw?
Levinson: Every community will be doing contact tracing, and generally the guidelines with respect to contact tracing have to be an individual who has been in close proximity, inside that social distance barrier, for an extended period of time. And so again, to the earlier question, that's why it is imperative that we emphasize and educate the social distancing point, so we're not faced with that situation.
What could trigger another shutdown of play like what happened in March at THE PLAYERS?
Levinson: Yeah, of course there could be, and we're always monitoring the situation in those markets. We're working closely with the local health authorities to understand what's going on the ground, and of course if there was a situation where it was not possible to provide all of our constituents with a safe and healthy environment, then we wouldn't do so, or we would look for an alternate site.
Other than having no fans on the course, what other changes will we notice?
Levinson: So our goal is to minimize risk as much as possible, with the full understanding that there is no way to eliminate all of the risk. But one of the best ways we can do that, to reduce the likelihood of exposure, is by limiting the number of people we have on site and also limiting access to certain areas, keeping groups separated. We will enhance the restrictions on access to player and caddie areas. The clubhouse and locker room and caddie areas will all be much more restricted in terms of who can enter there, and also the number of people that can be in there at any given time. In these first few events upon our return, we will not have player family members and other support personnel that players and caddies are accustomed to having. We are going to implement measures to ensure social distancing, whether that's in practice areas, whether that's in the buildings, whether that's anybody who's on site.