Stricter quarantines for school sports frustrating some Routt County teams

Students must quarantine longer to return to sports than to school, creating some frustration among teams who fear their season could be abruptly ended by a quarantine. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Many schools celebrated when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shortened quarantine times in December in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

It allowed staff and students to shorten quarantines to just seven days with a negative COVID-19 test or 10 days without a test, where it had previously been 14 days. Still, health experts say risk of transmission after these amounts of quarantining is still above 10%, so recommendations require people to maintain 6 feet of social distancing, wear masks and avoid crowds.

When it comes to school sports, though, state health officials are still requiring the full 14-day quarantine period because of the higher risk of transmission associated with those activities and the inability to social distance during games.

“It is not feasible for wrestlers or basketball players to maintain 6-foot physical distancing during matches or games,” the state agency wrote in a letter to local public health agencies last week. “Athletes are required to refrain from group activities for 14 days following exposure.”

Problems have arisen because, while Routt County put the guidance in place right away, other Colorado counties may not have, leading to differences in how exposure to a positive case is dealt with from school to school.

The letter sent to local public health and school officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment included this graphic, explaining the difference in quarantine times. Activities like athletics have been shown to me of higher risk, requiring the longer quarantine period. (Screenshot)

“We can’t say that every other county has provided the same guidelines to their schools, and their schools are either not quarantining their athletes, or they are providing different guidelines for athletes in terms of quarantine,” Routt County Public Health Director Roberta Smith said in a Board of Health meeting last week.

Smith said local health officials have reached out to the state’s health department making them aware that other counties are not “playing fair,” disregarding the guidance from the state.

For Rim Watson, superintendent of the South Routt School District, the concern is that the guidelines will put a team in quarantine just as the season nears its end. Watson said the schools have not had a sports-related quarantine yet, and the district relies on the schools they compete against to be follow the guidelines Soroco High School is already abiding by.

Dr. Brain Harrington, Routt County Public Health chief medical officer, said state officials have made it clear there is no way around the 14-day guidance.

“We’re trying to work it out for our local schools,” Harrington said. “These are kids — some of them are seniors; this is their last chance. The sport seasons are short, and being in a 14-day quarantine functionally ends the season for some of these teams.”

Luke DeWolfe, athletic director at Steamboat Springs High School, said two teams at the high school are currently in quarantine, which would have effectively ended their seasons, but the Colorado High School Activities Association has allowed for scheduling games after the season normally would have ended.

“They will have an opportunity, at least one more time … to participate,” DeWolfe said. “Instead of that kind of abrupt end that they had, they will be able to have some kind of meaningful closure with those games.”

The day before the hockey team was quarantined, it was able to have senior night, and the girls basketball team will have a senior night the same night as the boys basketball team.

“Even though (the girls basketball team is) not able to participate and play, because of the 10-day quarantine for anything but athletics, they can still come back and participate in that senior night,” DeWolfe said.

The same quarantine guidelines are expected to remain in place for spring sports, as well. Football, volleyball and boys soccer are all slated to start within the next week, with contests starting in mid-March. Traditional spring sports will start up around the end of April and continue until mid-June.

“It doesn’t sound like, based on this letter, that (14-day quarantine guidelines) are going to go anywhere,” DeWolfe said. “If anything, things have changed and do change, and it changes rapidly. So, as much as this guidance is in effect now, we’ll see in the long term what it holds and if it will stick around or if something changes.”

Watson said he has a lot of faith that both the Routt County Public Health Department, as well as state officials, are making smart decisions to protect student athletes. He also said they have been responsive to changing situations, and if there is an opportunity to change quarantine rules, he trusts health officials will be willing to make that adjustment.

In the short-term, Watson is thinking about Soroco’s girl’s basketball team that is playing for the league championship Saturday. If the team wins, the season continues to the state tournament.

“I would hope that they would get to go as far as they possibly could by what happens on the court and not have something off the court end their season,” Watson said.

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