Sports teams no longer required to wear masks or social distance during practices and games, students run risk of multiple quarantine periods, cross-contamination between other schools
After three weeks of socially distanced, in-person sports practices, teams are no longer required to follow as many safety guidelines during practices and games, spurring worries about contact tracing and the possibility of team-wide quarantines in the event of a positive COVID-19 test.
As of Oct. 5, student-athletes are no longer required to social distance or wear masks during practices. Prior to this announcement, all students were required to wear masks to and from their respective practice locations, as well as maintain a social distance of six feet while participating in activities with their masks off. Before socially distant practices became an option, athletes had the option to participate in strength and conditioning sessions that followed the same guidelines.
“Following the SPC’s announcement regarding fall sports in August, athletic administrators from our peer North Zone SPC schools worked together to initiate a return to play and subsequent return to competition timeline,” Athletic Director Dan Gill said.
The decision to return to more regular practices was made after close examination of “local, regional and national developments” and the athletic department remains in close contact with other local sports conferences like the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS.
While some people are worried about the lack of safety, varsity field hockey captain and senior Cleo Neuhoff is grateful for the opportunity to play at all.
“I think, overall, [the Athletic Department has] done a good job reintegrating us back into sports,” Neuhoff said. “Obviously, if someone on our team gets [COVID-19] there is a high chance everyone else will too, but I’m glad they have allowed us to practice and have games for our senior year because it’s so important to the ESD experience.”
Despite the fact that practices have returned to normal, Neuhoff says there is a lot more expected of the captains this year because of the pandemic.
“There’s definitely more pressure this year because we are not only being critiqued by our team but by parents, teachers and the administration,” Neuhoff said. “It puts [the captains] in a weird position where we feel like we are responsible for what our teammates are doing outside of school. While obviously we can’t regulate their every move, there is definitely pressure on us to encourage and try to enforce safe behavior.”
In the case of a positive test result of an athlete, the Athletic Department has created a protocol that extends to schools that have participated in games with the player who tested positive: “If a player tests positive, all of his or her teammates would stay at home and do remote learning while contact tracing occurs,” Head Athletic Trainer Crystal Carrizales said. “Because of the nature of most sports, it is highly likely that all of the players would be deemed close contacts during the contact tracing process and therefore be required to quarantine for 14 days.”
Junior and varsity field hockey player Esme McGaughy has already had to quarantine twice this year, one of these instances coming as a result of playing in a field hockey game.
“I was forced to quarantine after I volunteered to play in a JV game and later learned that one of the JV players on our team tested positive,” McGaughy said. “They didn’t have enough players for one of their games and they needed a few varsity players to play. It’s just very unfortunate and unlucky that I happened to choose that one game to volunteer for.”
While McGaughy acknowledges that the school is just trying to keep everyone safe and healthy, she wishes there were certain instances in which some players were not required to quarantine for the entire two week period.
“These are obviously unprecedented times and I know that the school is doing their best to protect everyone and appeal to everyone’s needs which is super challenging,” McGaughy said. “At the same time, I was not near the person that tested positive at any point during the game; I even watched the film to make sure of it. I fully expected to be able to go back to school the next day after showing the school that I was further than six feet from her at all times and getting a negative test result a few days later. It just doesn’t really make sense that they won’t let you go back to school with multiple pieces of evidence to show that you aren’t a risk to other students and faculty.”