The PGA Tour on Wednesday announced a clarification to its health and safety plan that will allow players and caddies who have tested positive for the coronavirus to return to work after 10 days, even if they continue to test positive, provided that they meet certain qualifications.
The policy immediately impacts Nick Watney, Dylan Frittelli and Denny McCarthy, all of whom have self-isolated for 10 days after positive tests and no longer have symptoms but continue to bring back positive results.
Out of "abundance of caution," the tour has grouped the three players together for the first two rounds of this week's Workday Charity Open in Columbus, Ohio. Any players in this situation going forward will play alone or with others who fit the same description.
This protocol applies to those players or caddies who tested positive and showed symptoms. Last week, the tour updated its policy for those who were asymptomatic to allow them to return to competition if they have two negative coronavirus tests at least 24 hours apart.
All of this is in accordance with the CDC's "Return to Work" guidelines.
"In the beginning stage of the illness, that virus is assumed to be active virus that can cause infection, can be contagious," said Dr. Tom Hospel, the PGA Tour's medical adviser. "As time passes and as symptoms resolve and the patient or individual doesn't have any fever and 10 days have passed, at that point the thought and theory is that this virus, this particle that's being detected in the [nasal] swab is no longer active or contagious or can potentially cause ongoing infection.
"What we have learned along the way is that in some instances, individuals can continue to test positive for weeks if not months beyond when their illness started, and the thought is that those individuals are no longer contagious, but you're picking up dead virus."
According to the symptom-based model as outlined by the CDC, a player or caddie can return to competition if at least three days (72 hours) have passed since his recovery, which is defined as a resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and improvement in respiratory symptoms with at least 10 days having passed since symptoms first appeared.
"The mindset is that they have complied with the guidance from the CDC," said Andy Levinson, the PGA Tour's senior vice president of tournament administration. "They have met the medical requirements for isolation, and with respect to the opinions of our medical advisors, including infectious disease experts and the CDC, they're clear to play. They're clear to return to work, whether it was a player, a caddie, you or me."
Now in the fifth week of its revised schedule following a 13-week shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the PGA Tour has announced that a total of eight people -- six players and two caddies -- have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Watney was the first player to do so, three weeks ago at the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. He isolated there for 10 days before driving home to Austin, Texas. This is his first tournament since the Heritage, but according to the tour, he has since tested positive for the coronavirus.
"This is an issue that individuals are facing as they're getting guidance on returning individuals back to work or back into society," Hospel said. "We're finding that individuals, certain individuals, can continue to test positive this way with their PCR swabs for an indefinite period of time."