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Orange County football players, coaches to receive rapid COVID-19 tests ahead of games

Football players are at risk with high-contact sport, superintendent says

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County high school football players will take rapid coronavirus tests a few days before a game, Orange County Public Schools officials said.

The school district is still working out the details but the rapid tests will only apply to football teams, coaches and trainers.

Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, said the rapid testing of football players and coaches will begin next Tuesday.

While some may be upset to hear the district is just testing the football teams, Jenkins said this is something that will protect the entire school and combat the spread of COVID-19 from school to school.

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“I would never say to parents, “one group is more important to be tested than another;” any parent can have their child tested if they’re interested in it, through the Department of Health provisions at various sites. The issue with our football players is that they are the most exposed, it’s a high contact sport, they don’t wear facemasks,” said Jenkins.

Additionally, Jenkins said because many of the coaches are also teachers in the classrooms, they interact with the rest of the student population. She said because of that, they’ve tried to limit the exposure as much as possible.

Jenkins said the rapid testing will begin next week, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and said teams will be tested every other week.

Scott Howat, chief communications officer with Orange County Public Schools, said rapid testing will also prevent COVID-19 cases from being spread to other schools once players begin competing against other teams.

“Our cohort of players that are together are one thing but then once they start competition and start cross, possibly, infecting the other schools and then taking it over to the other schools that thought was to invest in the rapid testing so they could be tested bi-weekly in order to ensure that the coaches, the trainers, the players are ... at least testing not positive before they’re competing with another team that could possibly be infected and then take it back to the school,” Howat said.

Howat said the testing was brought about through a partnership with AdventHealth. The testing idea was also endorsed by the OCPS Medical Advisory Committee to the school board.

In terms of how many days prior to game day teams will be tested, Jenkins said they can be tested up until the day of the game.

She added that with games starting next Thursday they are hoping to get all players and coaches tested before then.

OCPS said they will be using the nasal swab rapid tests, that take about 15 minutes to yield results.

School officials said anyone who does not take the test, will not be allowed to play.

“We are going to give our young people every possible opportunity, as safe as possible, to display their talent,” Jenkins said.

OCPS has already taken certain precautions with team sports with the ongoing pandemic. Football players are required to learn from home through virtual options or with their teammates in a learning pod.

Typical football night fanfare --including pep rallies, color guard and band performances -- will also be pretaped to keep attendance down at games.

Attendance at all games will be kept at 25% capacity and no cheerleaders will be allowed to perform at games.

Fall sports across OCPS began Aug. 31.


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