After three confirmed cases of the new coronavirus turned up in Nashville over the weekend, the Southeastern Conference has announced that the league still expects to play its annual men's basketball tournament at Bridgestone Arena from March 11-15.
The league said Monday it will take health precautions within the arena, as it did in its women's basketball tournament in Greenville, South Carolina, last week, and that it will "remain alert" to any developments and maintain communication with public health officials.
The SEC also said it will take similar preventive measures at the league's gymnastics championship on March 21 in Duluth, Georgia.
The new virus, COVID-19, is a member of the coronavirus family, which includes viruses that cause common colds and others that result in more serious illnesses, such as SARS and MERS.
The virus can cause fever, coughing, wheezing and pneumonia. Health officials said they believe it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.
Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Monday that the first case of "presumptive" coronavirus was confirmed in Louisiana. The person is a Jefferson Parish resident who is at an Orleans Parish hospital.
Due to the spread of coronavirus, LSU is considering temporarily suspending face-to-face instruction.
"The SEC continues to monitor developments associated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) and has not modified the schedule of events related to our men's basketball tournament in Nashville," the SEC said in a news release. "At this time our focus and expectation is to play the tournament as scheduled. Local authorities have confirmed this approach is consistent with current public health recommendations. We remain alert to any circumstances that could warrant adjustments for the health and well-being of our student-athletes, fans and other participants. We are in continued communication with public health officials and remind everyone to be attentive to everyday preventive actions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov)."
The SEC plans to implement the following health precautions at its men's basketball tournament and gymnastics championship:
- Additional hand sanitizers will be present at arena entrances and throughout concourse and in meeting rooms;
- Use of hospital grade disinfectant to sanitize locker rooms before teams arrive and upon departure;
- Sanitization of game balls with hospital grade disinfectant after each practice and game;
- Sanitization of team benches plus band and cheerleader seating areas following each game;
- Hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and Lysol spray in team locker rooms;
- Hand sanitizers at scorer's table, in officials' locker rooms and operations offices;
- Signage throughout concourse to provide CDC preventive action recommendations
The LSU athletic department has not yet altered any scheduled plans in any of its sports.
The Tigers men's basketball team (21-10, 12-6) is the No. 3 seed in the tournament and will await a winner between No. 14. Vanderbilt, No. 11 Arkansas and No. 6 South Carolina and play in the quarterfinals on Friday at 6 p.m.
In gymnastics, No. 5 LSU will host Arizona State on Friday at 7:30 p.m., the final event before the SEC championship.
“We are closely monitoring the situation in coordination with the university including active participation in campus-wide planning and monitoring," LSU Senior Associate Athletic Director Robert Munson said in a statement. "Our medical and athletic training staff are communicating daily with our student-athletes and staff with accurate information on COVID-19 and how to avoid any potential spread of the virus as advised by the CDC. We are also in regular contact with the SEC and the NCAA on any changes in protocol or athletic events. We will continue to work with the university to keep our student-athletes, their families and our fans apprised of any changes.”
Officials are advising people to take steps to avoid infection with coronavirus or other respiratory infections like colds or the flu, including washing hands with soap and water and avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
According to data from China, where coronavirus originated, the elderly are at a heightened risk. The disease has about a 2% mortality rate and about 80% of cases are mild. But in people ages 70 to 79, that fatality rate shot up to 8%. In those over 80, the fatality rate was almost 15%.
Officials have warned that the fatality rate may be skewed due to the underreporting of mild cases where infected people experience few or no symptoms.
Staffer Emily Woodruff and The Associated Press contributed to this report.