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OU football: How Headington Hall is handling players' return amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Headington Hall

Headington Hall sits at the corner of Lindsey Street and Jenkins Avenue in Norman. (Kyle Phillips / The Transcript)

Headington Hall opened its rather heavy doors to an influx of student-athletes last Saturday, revealing a few tweaks to the 230,000-square-foot residence hall’s interior.

The front desks include plexiglass shields, the common areas are mostly shut off from resident use, walkways are marked to minimize contact and hand-sanitizing stations are available at all entrances and elevator landings.

The coronavirus-influenced installations are in line with safety measures the University of Oklahoma has implemented to better protect its student body, which is scheduled to arrive in full for the start of the fall semester next month.

Headington Hall, which is funded and operated by OU’s athletics department, had a shorter timeline to reintroduce students to its facility. OU’s football program started voluntary workouts Wednesday, making the June 27 move-in day essential for coach Lincoln Riley’s players. And the process was as smooth as Headington Hall director Kyle Butcher could have hoped for.

“I was really pleased in regards to not only the students but the families,” Butcher told The Transcript. “Everybody was really being compliant and respectful with the policies that are very new. But everybody wants to ensure that they're keeping themselves safe and keeping the rest of the community safe.”

OU's football team isn’t without positive COVID-19 cases. The program released its initial testing data Wednesday evening, which reported 111 players and 72 staff members were tested on Monday. 

There were seven positive results and seven positive cases that existed prior to Monday's testing among football players, while two staff members tested positive. OU said two players have already recovered from the coronavirus, leaving them with 12 active cases.

The Sooners’ football team isn’t alone with handling positive cases. Both LSU and Clemson have dealt with over 30 cases over the past month. Texas reported 15 players tested positive for COVID-19 in late June, while Oklahoma State reported 14 cases on Monday.

Headington Hall made ample effort to reduce the spread on move-in day, limiting student-athletes to two guests during their move-in time, which the residence hall staggered throughout the day. Each resident and their guests were required to wear masks until making it to their assigned room as part of the university’s campus-wide masking policy. Masks can also be removed at Wagner, Headington’s in-house dining facility.

The university has spent the pandemic figuring out its return-to-campus plan. What resulted at Headington is an uptick in sanitation, which includes hospital-grade filters and weekly rounds of electrostatic spray disinfectant, among other measures.

In an effort to limit the spread of the virus, Headington residents are temporarily not permitted to have visitors. All tours of the facility and myriad classes inside the building’s study area that attracts outside groups are suspended as well.

It’s a tough, but necessary, reality for Butcher, who in his two years as the residence hall’s director has most enjoyed Headington Hall’s ability to keep residents engaged with one another from its large living room at the front of the building to its pool and ping-pong tables.

“I think that's probably what has been the biggest hurdle for me,” Butcher said of Headington's lack of in-person activities. “But we're absolutely getting there, and we're optimistic about still building a community atmosphere.”

The residence hall's academic commons still gives access to large study tables but with some chairs removed to adhere to social-distancing guidelines. The academic commons, as well as all shared areas of the building, are expected to be disinfected on a weekly basis.

Headington Hall, along with the rest of the university, will continue to check in on its protocols already in place and adjust them when necessary.

“The student athletes that have returned so far, in regards to adhering to the mask policy, social distancing and following our pathway plan, everybody seems to understand the seriousness of the situation,” Butcher said. “Between now and August, we’re still keeping our eyes open to see what areas of these policies that we need to revisit and dive into a little bit more before we bring back the rest of the students.”

All OU student-athletes that test positive for COVID-19 will be required to quarantine at an on-campus facility and cleared to return from isolation at the discretion of OU’s medical staff, in conjunction with the Oklahoma State Department of Health and Goddard Health Center. Staff members are required to isolate themselves from their homes.

The university said all student-athletes can remove themselves from campus if at any point during the 2020-21 academic calendar they feel uncomfortable with the state of the pandemic.

Student-athletes that choose to leave campus for coronavirus-related reasons will not face any penalties with their team standing or athletics department financial aid, according to a release.

Joe Buettner


Follow me @ByJoeBuettner

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