Just four days into limited voluntary workouts at Forsyth County high school campuses, an athlete has tested positive for COVID-19.
According to a statement released by Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools on Thursday evening, the district was notified of the positive case after the student returned to West Forsyth for conditioning with the Titans’ boys soccer team. The athlete last participated in limited workouts Monday — the district’s opening date for an initial lift of its dead period on high school sports.
John Sullivan, the athletics director for WS/FCS, said the school system was notified Thursday by the student’s family of the COVID-19 test result. West Forsyth and the district’s athletics department staff have worked with the Forsyth County Department of Public Health to notify students and staff who may have been in contact with the athlete, according to the statement.
Jeffrey Williams, the team’s head coach, and Mike Pennington, West Forsyth’s athletics director, deferred questions to Brent Campbell, WS/FCS’ spokesperson.
“I guess he felt shortness of breath and they moved on and had him tested,” Sullivan said. “And they didn’t notify the school until they had him tested, and we waited for the results. Today we got the results.”
Pennington, who was on the district’s “Back to School” Athletics committee alongside three additional athletics directors who crafted safety protocols for limited workouts in the county, said Monday the Titans’ soccer team had two “pods” — a group of the same athletes of up to 25 people allowed on a field or in a stadium, training together daily per the N.C. High School Athletic Association’s guidelines — cycling through conditioning that morning. Sullivan said the student’s group, which included a coach, has been “shut down.” Preventative measures include a 14-day quarantine that applies to the group, beginning Monday with the first sign of symptoms, though he was unsure exactly how many people were in that group.
According to Sullivan, the student cleared Monday’s required prescreening prior to commencement of the Titans’ workout. That included a forehead scan with an infrared thermometer, and the NCHSAA’s standard questionnaire for COVID-19 symptoms.
Sullivan said he spoke with the student’s mother and he was “doing fine.”
“What happened at West Forsyth on Monday was standard procedures,” Sullivan said. “They had their workout. They had their kids six feet apart, and they had the squares painted on the field for them to do their workout in. They didn’t violate those at all.”
WS/FCS’ plan for limited workouts is arguably stricter than guidelines released by the NCHSAA in June for a gradual reopening of high school sports, which has been dormant since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The district’s policy for Phase One — the initial step of a three-part plan — mandated workouts without equipment, including balls, tackling dummies, mats and sleds. The district remains the largest system in the state to allow limited workouts as Wake County Public School System, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Guilford County Schools are in a holding pattern without conditioning.
Sullivan said last week a factor in WS/FCS’ decision to move forward with limited workouts Monday was to eliminate unregulated, “rogue,” congregations and to get athletes in front of coaches again. School board member Elisabeth Motsinger, a health care professional who has been vocal in meetings about the rapid spread of COVID-19, said she understands how much students want to return to sports and other activities that matter to them.
“No one wants restrictions from COVID but until we get this virus under control, it’s going to show up where people gather,” Motsinger said.
Forsyth County’s COVID-19 case count, according to Thursday’s update from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, stands at 5,091 — 13% (670 cases) between ages 0 to 17. According to Sullivan, the district will continue with limited workouts.
He said the district’s goal was to reach Aug. 17 — the state’s first day of the 2020-21 school year — without a case.
“Did we think we were going to get through this? We didn’t think it — we hoped it,” Sullivan said. “Same thing’s going to happen when we open schools. We don’t know. We don’t know what the future holds, so we’ll just adjust as we go.
“… I don’t know how I feel about it. I just have to, at this point, we’ve been rolling and adjusting. So that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”