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COVID exposure puts damper on school sports
Turlock football
Turlock quarterback Cole Gilbert searches for an open target during Monday's game against Clayton Valley Charter. Gilbert was back in action this week, after having to sit out the last game due to COVID-19 close contact quarantining mandates (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

There were high hopes with the complete return of in-person instruction throughout Turlock schools this fall that all activities would start getting back to normal. An increase in COVID-19 cases in youth and close exposure to those testing positive due to classroom instruction, however, has seen the cancellation of numerous sporting events, leaving teams and players not knowing day by day if a game will be played.

Turlock Unified School District reported 79 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 and 886 individuals who have been deemed close contact to a positive case last week.

TUSD was unable to provide vaccination rates among students, however, 49 percent of Stanislaus County residents age 12 and up are fully vaccinated and 15 percent are partially vaccinated.  In total, 64 percent of residents in this age group have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Mandatory quarantining with close contact exposure has affected not only those who become sick, but those sitting in class with them.

“Some of our athletes have been close contacts to positive cases at school which has impacted their participation in sports while in quarantine,” said Chief Communication Coordinator at TUSD Marie Russell.

One of those athletes was Turlock High quarterback Cole Gilbert. Gilbert had to quarantine last week due to being identified as a close contact, and had to stand by as his team lost 41-0 to Rocklin.

“It was tough not playing last week, especially after seeing how we performed, but I know our team was playing for me last week,” said Gilbert.

After the game, the team had discussions about what needs to be done to make sure all the players are available to play and Gilbert came up with a plan so he doesn’t have to miss any more games.

“I think that’s definitely a big topic we talked, whether it’s isolating yourself in a classroom to get away from that or getting vaccinated. It’s a big topic on our team just because that can’t happen,” Gilbert said. “In my classes I have it all figured out and I’m sitting by myself. I don’t have anyone six feet of me so I can’t get contacted. But whether it’s getting vaccinated or avoiding close contact, I definitely hope we’ve got it figured out.”

While having a quarterback miss a game is difficult, Pitman’s football team had to cancel their game last week because too many members of the team were quarantining due to close contact.

“I felt bad for the kids. It hurts because you put all this work in,” said Pride head coach Eric Reza.

Reza said the team is doing their best to follow social distance guidelines, including wearing masks inside, to help mitigate more players being deemed close contact or testing positive for the virus. While Reza says he is vaccinated and believes in the benefits of the vaccine, he doesn’t believe it is his place to tell the athletes whether they should get vaccinated.

“It is ultimately up to the parent. While I am vaccinated and believe in its benefits, I will never tell a kid whether they should get it or not,” he said.

“I just really hope everyone stays safe and we can continue to play. There are a lot of good memories to be made out there and I’m concerned this will happen again to not only our team, but to all the kids, and they don’t deserve that,” Reza continued.

TUSD is hosting vaccination clinics for those wishing to receive the vaccine in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID.

“This summer we partnered with SCHSA to offer three vaccination clinics at Cunningham, Osborn and Wakefield. We are working with them once again to host vaccine clinics at both Turlock and Pitman high school,” said Russell.

Last Tuesday, 94 community members attended the Turlock High vaccine clinic which was a great turnout, according to Russell.