PSU Clarifies Doctor's Comments on Big Ten and COVID-19-Related Heart Condition

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2020

FILE - In this Aug. 31, 2019, file photo, the Big Ten logo is displayed on the field before an NCAA college football game between Iowa and Miami of Ohio in Iowa City, Iowa. Big Ten presidents voted 11-3 to postpone the football season until spring, bringing some clarity to a key question raised in a lawsuit brought by a group of Nebraska football players. The vote breakdown was revealed Monday, Aug. 31, 2020, in the Big Ten's court filing in response to the lawsuit. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Penn State and the school's director of athletic medicine, Wayne Sebastianelli, clarified Sebastianelli's previous comments that 30-35 percent of Big Ten athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 also had myocarditis, a condition that inflames the heart muscle and can potentially be fatal.

Kyle Bonagura of ESPN provided the clarification:

Kyle Bonagura @BonaguraESPN

Regarding the claim that 30-35% of Big Ten athletes have been discovered to have heart conditions linked to Covid-19: It was incorrect. Here is some clarification from Penn State. "Dr. Sebastianelli wishes to clarify this point, and apologize for any confusion." https://t.co/ATUc2FxDrU

Per Parth Upadhyaya of the Centre Daily Times, Sebastianelli said the following Monday during a State College Area board of directors meeting:

"When we looked at our COVID-positive athletes, whether they were symptomatic or not, 30 to roughly 35 percent of their heart muscles (are) inflamed. And we really just don't know what to do with it right now. It's still very early in the infection. Some of that has led to the Pac-12 and the Big Ten's decision to sort of put a hiatus on what's happening."

Studies have discovered a link between the coronavirus and myocarditis, per Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach of ESPN:

"A study published in July in JAMA Cardiology found that out of 100 adult patients in Germany who had recovered from the COVID-19 infection, 60 percent had findings of ongoing myocardial inflammation. A recent review of myocarditis listed with the National Center for Biotechnology Information cites some estimates that find 1 percent to 5 percent of all patients with acute viral infections may involve the myocardium, or the muscular tissue, of the heart."

Concerns over both the coronavirus and myocarditis led the Mid-American Conference, the Mountain West, the Big Ten and the Pac-12 to postpone their fall athletic seasons, including football. The NCAA also postponed all fall championships outside of football.

Sebastianelli said in his original remarks that the level of cardiac inflammation seen in the athletes tested was "alarming":

"You could have a very high-level athlete who's got a very superior VO2 max and cardiac output who gets infected with COVID and can drop his or her VO2 max and cardiac output just by 10 percent, and that could make them go from elite status to average status. We don't know that. We don't know how long that's going to last. What we have seen is when people have been studied with cardiac MRI scans—symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID infections—is a level of inflammation in cardiac muscle that just is alarming."

The University of Washington's Dr. Kim Harmon told reporters the Pac-12 has been working with Harvard on a study of the link between COVID-19 and myocarditis, the results of which are expected in about a month. 

Despite those studies and the conference's earlier decision to postpone the season, the Big Ten is reportedly considering an October start to the football season, per radio host Dan Patrick:

Dan Patrick Show @dpshow

“From source: If conference can pass updated safety measures and procedures, Big Ten targeting Oct. 10 to start football season.” - Dan Patrick

That report followed a phone call between Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren and President Donald Trump on Tuesday in which Trump pushed for a return to play, ostensibly to help boost his support in swing states like Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin ahead of November's presidential election.

"I think it was very productive about getting Big Ten playing again, immediately," Trump told reporters. "Let's see what happens. [Warren is] a great guy; it's a great conference. Tremendous teams. We're pushing very hard."