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Two schools stop sports over virus

by Jeremy Muck | June 27, 2020 at 2:12 a.m.

Two Garland County high schools this week suspended athletic activities because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lake Hamilton released a news statement Friday that an athlete had tested positive for covid-19. The athlete's sport was not identified in the statement. District spokesman Brian Bridges told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Lake Hamilton was unable to release that information, citing privacy laws.

Mountain Pine had an unidentified person linked to the athletic department test positive Tuesday. Athletic Director James Galarza, citing privacy laws, declined to name whether the person was a student or a coach.

Lake Hamilton suspended athletic activities through Friday and is expected to resume activities Monday. Mountain Pine will not return to athletic activities until July 6.

Galarza said the person visited with Mountain Pine's administration Monday and told them that one of his family members had tested positive for the virus.

Three high schools in the state have been known to shut their athletic activities down because of covid-19. Jonesboro Superintendent Kim Wilbanks told the Democrat-Gazette on June 15 that a football player had tested positive for the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic forced schools to shut down March 13, and the Arkansas Activities Association canceled the spring sports schedule April 9. The AAA's athletic dead period ended June 1, allowing athletes and coaches to work out together in-person.

Lake Hamilton Superintendent Shawn Higginbotham said in a news statement Friday that a parent notified one of the school's coaches Tuesday night that their child had tested positive for covid-19, and that the child was on campus that day for a workout.

Higginbotham said Lake Hamilton followed procedures that included immediately contacting the Arkansas Department of Health. An investigation was made as to how many students were in close contact with the student who tested positive. One student was in close contact with the infected athlete after riding to the school. The parent of the student in close contact was notified and advised to quarantine for 14 days, get tested for the virus and stay away from campus, per guidance from the health department.

"The district regrets that one of our students is infected and another has been exposed," Higginbotham said in the release. "We wish them well and hope to see them back in a couple of weeks. We remain confident that we are able to continue to provide a safe environment for our students on campus for any organized purpose."

Higginbotham was not available for further comment, Bridges said.

Guidelines set by the health department and the governor's office May 21 state that athletes, coaches and staff must be screened with a digital thermometer prior to any activity and answer questions, which include whether they've had a fever of 100.4 degrees or greater in the past two days, had a cough, difficulty breathing, a sore throat, a loss of taste or smell or have had contact with a person known to be infected with covid-19.

Galarza said there's always room for improvement with making sure the procedures are being followed, "especially when it comes with something of this proportion." Mountain Pine's athletes from grades 7 through 12 were to be tested for covid-19, the school said.

He added that Mountain Pine will continue to consult with the health department and the AAA on proper health guidelines.

"We feel like we've followed everything basically to a T," Galarza said. "If there is anything we can do differently that the department of health and the AAA want us to do, we'll do it."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in his May 21 news conference that he expected to provide an update on team sports guidelines Tuesday. Sports such as football, basketball and volleyball are currently not allowed to hold contact practices, but can work out in small groups.


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