Within the first week of team practice, a Southside High School football player in Fort Smith has tested positive for COVID-19. A source familiar with the matter says the player was from a Fort Smith-based American Legion baseball team that had four players test positive for the virus.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced July 31 that football practice could continue beginning Aug. 3. The governor’s guidance allowed AAA-sanctioned football practice to begin Aug. 3 and continue through Aug. 7 with no-contact team drills while wearing helmets. Full practice can begin Monday (Aug. 10). Volleyball practice was also allowed to begin Aug. 3.
During the first week of football practice at Southside High School, Southside athletic trainer Brad Duplantis sent a message to team members and/or their parents stating that a team member had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We write to inform you of potential exposure to COVID-19 at football practice. We recently learned that a team member tested positive for COVID-19. We have notified the Arkansas Department of Health, and they advise that there currently are no affirmative steps other team members need to take,” the memo said.
The positive case has not yet resulted in any quarantine of players, coaches or delays or changes to the football practice schedule.
At least four members and one coach of the Fort Smith Forsgren team, an American Legion baseball team that plays through the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club, tested positive for COVID following the state championship tournament July 22-27, said Forsgren Coach Shea Hamilton. The first part of the tournament was played in Fort Smith. The finals on July 26 and 27 were in Jacksonville. The Forsgren team finished as the state runner-up. On July 31, Hamilton received notice a team member had tested positive for the virus. He then notified all players, parents and coaches.
All those who tested positive now “feel fine,” he said, noting all but one had minor symptoms and one was asymptomatic. Because the season ended with the state tournament, there were no more team practices, and no group testing was conducted. If the baseball players on the team were required to quarantine, the quarantine period may have prevented the players from participating in high school football practice.
One of the players who tested positive for the virus plays football for Southside. While the school district did not identify the player referred to in Duplantis’ memo, the Southside coaching staff was notified Friday (Aug. 8) that a member of the team tested positive for COVID, said Zena Featherston Marshall, executive director of communications and community partnerships for the school district.
That team member had not been at practice for a couple of days because a family member had tested positive for the virus on Wednesday, Marshall said. Once notified of the positive case the district took the necessary actions for reporting the information to the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), she added.
It is unknown if the other baseball players who tested positive, and the teammates they were around, are involved with other Fort Smith area high school sports programs, or if they notified their respective coaches they were affiliated with a team that had players with COVID.
The Arkansas Department of Education’s Response Levels for On-Site Learning, the state protocol for handling the COVID-19 pandemic, requires all school districts have a district employee appointed by the superintendent who is responsible for contacting the School Hotline when a confirmed positive is identified within the district. The point of contact for Fort Smith Public Schools is FSPS nurse Tracie Mathis, Marshall said. Mathis contacts ADH if there is a positive case, which she did Friday, Marshall said.
The district then follows the Response Levels for On-Site Learning protocol, which provides a flow chart of actions based on the level of response required. Limited response happens if there is a confirmed case in a school but limited spread within the school and/or community as determined by ADH. Sebastian County had 521 active positive cases of COVID as of Saturday (Aug. 8), according to the ADH website.
“At this level, the percentage of staff and students affected will not alter the delivery of district-wide on-site instruction and special services,” according to the response manual.
The protocols require the district to compile a list of “Probable Close Contacts” with contact information and shares it with an ADH contact tracer upon request. The district also notifies probable close contacts self-quarantine immediately for 14 days from the last date of contact with the positive case, the manual states.
Marshall said team members were notified because they could be indirect contacts. The ADE manual says a secondary contact is “an individual who has had contact with someone identified as a close contact to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. These individuals do not require quarantine, but are encouraged to monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19.”
“Nothing was sent to the entire school, but probably sent to all football players who could have been in indirect contact,” Marshall said.