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School district acquiring thousands of COVID tests for athletes
THS sports testing
Turlock Unified School District is providing free, on-site COVID testing for athletes who must be free of the virus to compete (Photo contributed).

As Turlock Unified School District prepares for the return of football next week, a robust COVID testing regimen has been adapted so that teams can meet guidelines set forth by the state and remain safe while playing. 

On Tuesday, Stanislaus County fell below the adjusted daily case rate of 14 or fewer per 100,000 residents which was previously required in order for high- and moderate-contact outdoor sports to be played, dropping down to 13.6. However, updated guidelines released by the state last week following a lawsuit in San Diego specify that all sports teams can return to play no matter their county’s daily case rate, as long as they adhere to the stricter requirements in place for college teams. 

One of those requirements is the regular testing of athletes and support staff in order to prevent any COVID outbreaks. With Central California Athletic League football play set to begin next week, weekly testing is already underway for players at Turlock and Pitman high schools. For indoor sports like volleyball, baseline testing and ongoing screening testing must be completed on a regular basis. The CCAL is looking into the viability of scheduling indoor sports, but football is scheduled and the first games will be played next Friday.

Football is the first sport to utilize testing and must do so weekly until the daily case rate is below seven per 100,000 residents. According to TUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Barney Gordon, the district is expecting to conduct approximately 150 tests per high school, of 300 throughout TUSD, each week until the rate falls below seven.

“TUSD has on hand today 640 test kits and expects 2,260 additional test kits to be on hand and available by the end of this week,” Gordon said, noting that more test kits will be obtained as needed.

The test kits are a combination of rapid antigen-based tests, which give results within 10 to 15 minutes, and PCR-based tests, which give results in 24 to 48 hours. The tests cost $20 and $85 each, respectively, and will be primarily funded using COVID relief money provided to the district.

In addition to testing, athletes must also provide informed consent to be able to play. Information was sent out to families this week letting them know about the paperwork that must be filled out, as well as the free, on site testing players would be undergoing in order to practice.

TUSD did not need to hire additional staff to administer tests, Gordon said. 

“Both tests are designed to be self-administered and will be conducted in a supervised setting; the PCR test is a saliva-based test, while the antigen test is an anterior nasal swab, requiring a swab to be inserted less than 1.5 centimeters (or three quarters of an inch) into the nostrils,” he said. 

Negative test results of all athletes and support staff must be provided within 48 hours of each competition, and schools must implement plans for contact tracing and quarantining, if needed.

All athletes and staff who test positive or are clinically diagnosed with COVID-19 disease must isolate: 

·     For 10 days after symptoms first appeared (or 10 days after specimen collection for their first positive test);

·     At least 24 hours have passed with no fever (without use of fever-reducing medications); and

·     Other symptoms have improved.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 but never develop symptoms can return to work or school 10 days after the date of specimen collection for their first positive test.

Individuals identified as close contacts (within six feet for at least 15 minutes) must follow state and local public health directives or orders for quarantine, regardless of the frequency of testing for those in the cohort or footprint. Close contacts must quarantine for 10 days after the last exposure.

The guidelines also state that when traveling to away games, teams must remain in a team cohort, with no mixing with the local teams or other members of the host community.

CCAL play will kick off for varsity football at 7 p.m. on March 19, with THS hosting Downey High School at Joe Debely Stadium and PHS traveling to play Enochs High School.