Rapid COVID tests save winter sports

Among the various mandates for winter sports, athletes are tested for the coronavirus every week. Read more on how athletes feel about the difficulties and the benefits to the testing system.

Photo courtesy of Anika Xi ’23/Staff

The circumstances of this whirlwind of a year have made athletics particularly out of the ordinary, with many new protocols in place to keep them safe and ongoing. Most recently, winter sports have started participating in a weekly COVID-19 testing routine to help keep students and staff safe when participating in athletics. This program allows participants within all Central League schools to make sure they are not carrying the coronavirus, which gives a sense of security at inter-school competitions, knowing that everyone has tested negative, and thus cannot spread the disease.

The district is taking part in a pilot testing program through the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), so the entire athletic department has been instructed to follow their guidelines. They are working with students and staff alike to maintain safety throughout the winter sports season. LMSD published “Winter Sports Return to Play Protocols” that outline the systems in place to keep everyone safe throughout the season. These guidelines can be found on the LM website. Additionally, the document states, “all in-person practices/competitions will be suspended if school is closed due to student/staff transmission,” which only allows winter athletics to occur as long as school is still in session. The district protocols primarily follow the “Special Considerations for Sports (CHOP Policy Center)” guidelines created specifically for winter sports during the pandemic.

The most prominent mandate for winter sports is that all student athletes must participate in obligatory COVID-19 testing at least once a week. In addition, “any staff member, including coaches, are able to test using the rapid tests,” according to LM Athletics & Activities Director Jason Stroup. For some teams, such as wrestling, testing is conducted twice a week, based on the level of contact and likelihood of transmission. However, the process is roughly the same for everyone involved. “Parents sign a consent form, the student or parent registers online, then the student brings in QR code. The QR code gets scanned along with a test kit. Nurses have the students swab their nostrils and provide any instructions. Nurses complete the testing process and read the test and enter into an online system using an iPad,” Stroup articulates. The logistics are very straightforward, allowing the system to run smoothly and tests to be as accurate as possible while providing findings quickly. Stroup also states, “rapid results allow athletes and staff members to know their status almost immediately.” This has permitted all winter sports to largely remain COVID-free thus far, proven by instances of coronavirus already being discovered and isolated. “If there is a positive case, the nursing staff contacts the family and county office of public health. Contact tracing is done and any close contacts are informed what steps they need to take,” Stroup describes. Students are also well informed of the process, proven by sophomore Solvej Berman’s knowledge: “When there is a positive test, the team will be notified and take action accordingly.” The efficient system is well thought-out and executed, allowing sports to remain in session.

Student athletes are extremely grateful for the chance to play this year, and most seem satisfied with the COVID-19 testing arrangement. Sophomore Sam Brown expresses, “Our whole team is absolutely ecstatic to have a season—no one thought it would have happened, so even a chance at having thirteen games is amazing.” The boys’ basketball team has started off their season strong, and Brown accounts their attitude towards such a strange year of basketball. In terms of the testing itself, many students appreciate the knowledge of whether or not they carry the highly-transmitted virus. Zeni Bradway ’24, a member of the Swim and Dive Team, reports, “I think that the COVID testing is really great. I am happy that we have been given the opportunity to do weekly tests, and have a season. Rapid testing is rather easy, so I think it is fine to have athletes swab themselves with proper instruction. It is all very helpful because it allows students to participate in sports, and it keeps our school safer when we know who has and doesn’t have COVID-19.” Thus far, most student athletes have found weekly COVID testing simple and effective and are ecstatic for a chance to have any form of a season at all.