Athletes to have mandated COVID-19 testing

Starting the week of Sept. 20, COVID-19 policies are changing in an effort to gather more information for the school administration. The school is following Ventura County Public Health Department mandates.

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“Everything is very much in its infancy,” Athletic Director Tim Chevalier said. “We are still trying to figure out the bounds of how athletes will be tested.”

Athletes will be required to have one negative test per week in order to partake in their sport. Testing days for athletes vary based on the sport but will consistently take place during the school week during a 1-4 p.m. window. For football, cheer and marching band, testing will take place on Mondays; Tuesdays will test those on cross country, girls’ volleyball and boys’ beach volleyball; Wednesdays will test those on girls’ golf, girls’ tennis, jazz band, wind ensemble and vocal ensemble. 

The test being administered is a PCR lower nasal swab. If a student misses the provided testing window through the school, they have to get proof of a negative test by their game day in order to be allowed to participate. 

“Because [student athletes] are doing a little extra, there are some extra restrictions,” Principal Mat McClenahan said. “It’s just the frequency and I think the word they use is cadence — how often you are going through the testing. Athletes should be tested weekly, right? So that’s more than other students … because again, they’re doing more so we need to get more information.”

The difference in testing between athletes, students involved in extracurricular activities, and all other students on campus is minimal. The weekly testing is going to be encouraged for all, with an increased rate of testing for those with increased exposure. Athletes are the only students mandated to receive weekly tests; it will be the golden ticket to be allowed into practice and games. Considering that the current Ventura County Department of Public Health mask mandate does not require mask-wearing outdoors, sports are generally unmasked. 

The information gathered after this week of baseline testing will guide the administration with future COVID-19 policies. 

“We make decisions [about testing] based on data,” McClenahan said. “It will inform the testing process that goes forward.”

In the case that a student tests positive for COVID-19, there is a complex protocol for contact tracing to keep the student and the community informed and safe. A close contact is anyone who spent more than 15 minutes unmasked within 6 feet of the person with a confirmed positive case. Students who choose to share their vaccination status are instructed to follow one of two paths on the OPUSD Student Health Decision Tree.

“I think weekly testing is good, because we can go to practices and games knowing we’re safe with a little more certainty,” senior and girls’ tennis team captain Anamika Patel said. 

The future frequency of COVID-19 testing for both students and student athletes is contingent on time and development; until the system has been given time to mature, the bounds of what will be required are still conditional. When asked if the OPHS testing policies for student athletes are currently dependent on vaccination status, it was revealed that the only process that changes with this information is contact tracing.

“There is no difference for anybody whether they’re vaccinated or not. Testing is testing,” McClenahan said. “It’s just people on campus or people in sports and test away.”

Refer to OPHS COVID Testing for Athletes webinar for more information.