The first week of full-practice is set to begin for student-athletes in local high schools, but COVID-19 has already caused more than a dozen local teams to suspend drills.
Last week, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) released its “best practices” for resuming fall sports — with an “acclamation week” beginning July 27 and full-contact practice for sports like football allowed to kickoff on Aug. 3.
However, many schools have had some student-athletes back on campus since schools were allowed to reopen in June for summer workouts and other extracurricular activities. Since that time, COVID-19 cases have been reported among athletes in at least 16 local programs.
According to Rena Philips, a spokesperson for the Mobile County Public School System, COVID-19 cases have been reported at eight of the district’s 12 high schools — including two that have currently suspended fall practice to implement a 14-day, team-wide quarantine.
Citing privacy concerns, Philips would not identify the schools where the cases were reported nor how many cases were reported at each school. However, she did say that none of the cases have led to significant outbreaks among students or staff. Those 12 incidents are also not all related to football, as other fall sports and activities have resumed on campuses as well.
“We are following Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines, as well as the local COVID-19 plans that each school had to develop,” Philips told Lagniappe. “If there is a case or concern of exposure, then the players, coaches and parents are notified, and the entire team sits out for 14 days. Even though the current recommendation is only 10 days, we’ve decided to implement a full 14-day quarantine out of an abundance of caution.”
Even though practice has resumed at the MCPSS high schools that aren’t under quarantine, the school system — Alabama’s largest — has not yet made a formal decision about whether its high schools will participate in fall sports and has already suspended middle school sports indefinitely due to the current levels of COVID-19 disease within its footprint.
Across the bay, the Baldwin County Public School System has made it clear that its teams intend to compete in sports, as long as state and local health officials allow. However, the BCPS teams have not been able to avoid impacts from COVID-19 either based on information provided to Lagniappe by Director of Prevention and Services Anthony Sampson.
According to Sampson, seven of the eight BCPS high schools have reported at least one case of COVID-19 among participants in “ all summer athletic/extracurricular activities” including one case confirmed at Baldwin County High School just today.
Additional cases have been reported at the following schools:
Spanish Fort High School – 2
Daphne High School – 4
Fairhope High School – 1
Robertsdale High School – 2
Foley High School – 4
Elberta High School – 1
Orange Beach High School – 1
“We are committed to keeping with our promise to provide clean and safe facilities. We are equally committed to remaining transparent about the safety and well-being of students and employees,” Sampson said in a statement. “Our records reflect a total of 14 confirmed COVID-19 cases for students participating in our summer athletic/extracurricular activities. We remain committed to creating the safest work and learning environment for our communities.”
Unlike MCPSS, schools in Baldwin County have been more strategic with their response to confirmed cases of COVID-19. Sampson said the response to each case is based upon the circumstances surrounding the situation. In some cases, entire programs were quarantined for 14 days. In other situations, only individuals or cohort groups of students were quarantined.
Lagniappe requested similar information from other public and private schools in the area but has yet to receive a response.
The schools in coastal Alabama are not outliers, though, as cases of COVID-19 have sidelined high school programs across the state as they get ready to enter into what is sure to be a precarious year of fall sports. The issues have also raised concerns about how cases that are detected once the season begins might impact a school’s record.
In its preseason guidance, AHSAA made it clear that teams won’t be fined and penalized if they have to forfeit a game because of COVID-19. However, AHSAA spokesman Ron Ingram told Lagniappe Thursday it will still count as a forfeit and a win for “the team ready to play.”
Previously, AHSAA has said it would evaluate all games forfeited due to COVID-19 at the end of the year, but if the impact of cases — and any subsequent quarantining — is widespread during the season it could make the playoff picture in certain regions unclear.
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