(WGHP) — Athletics officials are tightening up COVID protocols as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports an increase in clusters among middle and high school sports teams.
According to the agency, 45% of clusters in schools from July to September are among sports teams.
NCHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said Thursday case rates are higher in people 17 and younger, making up a third of the state’s new COVID cases.
In Guilford County Schools, there are eight reported cases among student-athletes, four of them are on football teams.
“Any game could be our last game so all of us are taking it seriously, with masks and getting vaccinated and things like that,” said senior Michael Phillips, a football player at Southwest High School.
Phillips said players know their season is at stake, and seniors are encouraging others to protect themselves against the virus and potential exposure.
“I’ve been talking to the offense and the defense, if it’s possible, get vaccinated, if your family is going to let you, because we want to have our last season, we don’t want to be like some of the other schools,” he said.
Athletic director Brindon Cristman says teams have tightened safety protocols since practices first began.
“It’s gotten to the point where we’ve kind of backslid to what we were doing last year, we’ve emphasized with our kids mask in school, mask when they go into locker rooms,” he said.
Cristman hopes the district’s testing requirement for unvaccinated students starting soon will also keep their season on track.
“Moving forward after this week, we don’t have any more open days, so we’re going to lose a game or a conference game we don’t want that to happen to these kids.”
Cristman did not say how many student-athletes are vaccinated, but the school is tracking those numbers.
“Hopefully we can get to the point where we are 85 to 90% who knows when that will be but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” he said.
Quinton Lewis has two kids playing sports at a Winston-Salem Christian Academy. Despite climbing cases, he feels comfortable letting his 13- and 14-year-olds play.
“(We’re) paying attention to necessary protocols, paying attention to their own safety, but at the same time not limiting or eliminating them being kids. Give them space to be kids give them space to have fun, but also make sure they are well-informed they understand what they’re supposed to be doing,” he said.
A spokesperson for the North Carolina High School Athletic released the following statement:
“The NCHSAA continues to work with DHHS to provide our member schools with the most up-to-date guidance and best practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in high school athletic team settings. We have been monitoring the spike in cases and are asking our schools to continue to be diligent in practicing the safety measures in place within their LEA’s, advised by the local Department of Health and DHHS.”