Officials respond to Fairbanks student-athlete testing positive for COVID-19

Published: Aug. 25, 2020 at 7:27 PM AKDT
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On Monday, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District was notified that a student-athlete involved in Saturday’s football game between West Valley and Lathrop High Schools had tested positive for COVID-19. Coaches, players and other individuals who participated in the event are currently undergoing a 14-day quarantine.

FNSBSD held a Zoom press conference Tuesday involving Pediatric Medical Director for the Tanana Valley Clinic, Dr. Mishelle Nance, where she explained the reasoning behind quarantining, rather than being tested and proceeding with those who are cleared.

“If they are directed by their health care provider then yes, they should be tested, but getting tested now and having a negative test does not shorten the required 14-day quarantine period,” said Dr. Nance. “They still need to be quarantined for the entire 14 days and this time period is to allow if they develop symptoms, so we’re asking those individuals to voluntarily quarantine and stay at home.”

Nace and Superintendent Karen Gaborik said the community does not have the resources to regularly test student-athletes. Gaborik added that parents were supportive of having high school sports and at this time, there are no plans to shut down football, or any of the other active sports in the district.

“As of right now, no, we’re monitoring the situation on a daily basis,” said Gaborik. “Our teams have actually been good about following those protocols and all of the safety precautions and following ASAA [Alaska School Activities Association] guidelines. It’s a balance between wanting kids to be engaged in activities and engaged in sports, especially in a time where we’re not in school to the degree possible.”

“We know, and take very seriously as a school district, our impact that we have on the public health of the community,” Gaborik added. “If we can keep our school community safe then we know that we will have a positive impact on Fairbanks and the Interior as a whole, that is our goal.”

Prior to Saturday’s game, Lathrop head football coach Luke Balash told his team, “play this game like it’s your last, because you never know when it could be taken away.” Days later, it rings more true, as neither West Valley nor Lathrop can participate in any football activity until at least September 5.

“The next two weeks should be really interesting,” said Balash. “Was there any spread on the player’s team? Was there any spread to the player’s opponents? Based on what we know about COVID and our mitigation plan, there really shouldn’t be. But maybe we’re wrong, maybe there will be, I don’t know, time will tell.”

“It is a trip, but this is exactly why we mitigate, for exactly this scenario: a kid brings it in, now how do we keep all the other kids safe? That becomes the big question.” said Balash.

Balash said if all goes well, he hopes to have his team return to practice September 7. In the meantime, they will miss Weeks 2 and 3 of the season.

“I was encouraging my team, saying ‘our season is not over, it is just postponed.’ This will be two weeks of being super safe and following instructions. I encouraged them to buckle down in school and work on self-care, because there is a lot you can do that is preventative.”

The school district said they will continue to follow ASAA’s guidelines and protocols, which include a questionnaire health screening, temperature checks, as well as distancing and masking when outside of vigorous activity. Executive Director of ASAA, Billy Strickland, said there are no plans to adjust the current protocols put into place, which were most recently updated on August 15.

“We have tried to be really upfront that the information that we are putting out is subject to change. As the best practices change and so forth, we will be changing it accordingly.” said Strickland.

“I really applaud the parent and student involved here,” added Strickland. “They didn’t try to hide it, they didn’t try to sweep it under the rug so that more kids would get exposed. I think that is something to be really stressed. It is really important for people to work honestly with the schools and that appears to be the case here.”

High School sports continue within the district with volleyball, flag football, tennis, cross country running and football all active this week.

Information regarding the current health status of the student-athlete was not made available.

On August 20, a student-athlete within Nome Public Schools tested positive for COVID-19.

Copyright 2020 KTVF. All rights reserved.

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