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Fall sports in Utah severely impacted by COVID-19

(Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium, which will host no football games in 2020. Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY – COVID-19 is bringing fall sports to a grinding halt on the college and high school level in Utah.  The PAC-12 is postponing all sports until 2021, and some parents believe their high school athletes should be allowed to play. 

The University of Utah postpones fall sports 

The University of Utah Athletics Director, Mark Harlan, called the Pac-12’s decision a “significant disruption” to student-athletes. He posted a statement on Utahutes.com, saying it was a good idea to allow personal workouts, but moving to a full-contact workout wasn’t something that conference officials would recommend.

“For months we have been working diligently in consultation with top medical experts to create a safe path for competition in these sports to take place and using all of the information and time available to us,” read the statement. “However, with the challenges and complexities presented by COVID-19, the medical advice does not support conducting fall sports seasons.”

Head Football, Coach Kyle Whittingham, also posted a statement on Twitter. 

Other coaches also expressed how disappointed they about the fall sports season being canceled. 

“With the uncertainty of everything, I keep telling my team that this is one of the biggest obstacles they will face in their lives,” said the U’s Head Volleyball Coach Beth Launiere. “Now is the time to come together as a team and keep supporting each other as we keep moving forward.” 

High school sports sidelined 

Despite college sports being postponed, high school sports will still continue. However, some parents say health restrictions are sidelining kids when they shouldn’t be. 

Barbara Jenkins’s daughter is the captain of her school’s soccer team in the Alpine School District. The season just started and there’s already been a hiccup. Jenkin’s told KSL the team will have to miss a few games because some of the players tested positive for COVID-19.

She understands the purpose of isolation to slow the spread but says there are ways to ensure if a student needs to quarantine themselves that aren’t being looked at by educators. 

She received a letter from an employee at the Utah County Health Department, stating she didn’t need to have her daughter tested for the virus “just to see.”  The letter said even it was negative, her daughter will still need to complete the 14-day quarantine. 

“They can go get tested.  They have the right to do that, but even if it comes back negative, it doesn’t matter,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins believes testing negative should be enough evidence that her daughter is safe to compete. She also said the school could have used a “modified quarantine,” allowing kids possibly exposed to the virus to attend class, as long as they keep their distance from other people.

“That’s what they should be doing with these teams,” explained Jenkins. “If one tests positive, pull them out.  If you have symptoms, stay home.  Let everybody in that team assess the risk they have.”

Additionally, she noted the letter said the rest of the family didn’t need a test, and they’re free to move around as normal.  Jenkins questioned why the quarantine didn’t apply to her.  

Containing the spread of COVID-19 in schools 

Currently, state health officials recommend all students from one class isolate themselves for two weeks if three or more students test positive for the virus.  If 15 or more students are confirmed carriers, the entire school has to go into quarantine.

Utah High School Activities Association Assistant Director, Jon Oglesby, said parents and students are not being pressured to avoid getting tested. In fact, every athlete must have their temperature taken and be checked for symptoms before the game.

“That’s just part of the best practices of pushing forward, the symptom checking.  It’s no different than what you’re seeing many school districts do in terms of what they’re doing for kids returning to schools,” Oglesby said. 

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As teachers rally in protest, Alpine School District aims to finalize ‘return to learn’ plan

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