Schools report 300 COVID-19 cases among athletes and staff to GHSA

Credit: AJC

Thousands of Georgia's student-athletes are preparing for what?s expected to be a season unlike any other.

Credit: AJC

Georgia high schools have reported about 300 positive COVID-19 tests among athletes and athletic staff since summer conditioning began June 8, Georgia High School Association executive director Robin Hines said Tuesday.

Of the GHSA’s 469 member schools, 90 have reported positive cases since Hines’ June 25 request for the information. Reporting is not mandatory.

Hines said those numbers were not surprising and didn’t make him more or less optimistic about fall sports. He said the 300 represents a small percentage of the more than 400,000 high school students who participate in GHSA sports, although not all athletes are in summer workouts, which are voluntary.

“All we’re trying to do with this information is look for trends,’’ Hines said. “It’s a way to provide data points to our sports-medicine advisory committee, which I meet with every week. It represents a small, small portion of our athletes that are involved in training, and it’s anecdotal and incomplete, but it’s important for us to look at it.’’

The positive tests include athletes in all sports, although football has the largest summer participation.

It is not known how many cases have led teams to suspend workouts. Several schools in Gwinnett, Fulton and Cobb counties, such as Parkview, Hillgrove and Milton, have continued workouts without interruption following positive tests of coaches and athletes. Milton coach Adam Clack revealed his own positive COVID-19 test this week. His team has continued without him.

Other schools, such as Mary Persons, Glynn Academy, Brunswick, Effingham County and Long County, have canceled practices for two weeks, then resumed, after students or staff tested positive.

The GHSA leaves those decisions to school district policy.

“It’s up to them to have those plans, and it’s not a new thing,’’ Hines said. “They had one for H1N1 and SARS. I can just say that we’re really pleased with the way that our schools have taken this on and taken great care to screen these kids on a daily basis to make sure they’re doing good. We’re really proud of them.’’

Differences in school-district policy will become more significant once games begin as schools shutting down for two weeks might postpone or cancel games. Hines said those instances would be treated as they’ve been with other emergencies out of a school’s control.

“When we had the hurricane that wreaked havoc in southwest Georgia (in 2018) around Bainbridge and Cairo, if those storms caused the cancellation of a game, we did our best to make up the game, but there would be no restitution or fines imposed,’’ Hines said of a season that saw dozens of unexpected sports schedule changes. “If someone has to forfeit a game (because of COVID), there’s not going to be a penalty for breaking a contract.’’

Mandatory practices may begin July 27 for football and Aug. 1 for other fall sports, which are volleyball, cross country, cheerleading and fast-pitch softball.

Hines said the next step would be to allow scrimmages between schools. That’s normally permissible in summer but against current GHSA guidelines because of the pandemic.

Hines said he believed sports teams could operate as normal on those official starts to mandatory practices but made no promises.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll meet the calendar that is set,’’ Hines said. “That’s what the goal has been all along. We’ve been slow and measured in our summer conditioning, and we’re still slow and measured, but at the same time, if we can get on schedule and follow our calendar, that could put us on track for a normal fall.’’

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