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Belmont Co. Health Department offers sports guidance

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — All Belmont County schools have received guidance from the county health department with recommendations to avoid having to shut down prep sports workouts and conditioning programs.

“Nothing we’ve told the schools is a requirement, but just a recommendation,” Belmont Co. Deputy Health Director Rob Sproull said. “The schools don’t have to like them or follow them, but we feel it’s the best course of action.”

The guidance deals with student-athletes and coaches returning to the Ohio Valley from vacations, especially to areas that have been deemed “hot spot” for COVID-19 such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.

The Belmont Co. Health Department is asking those who travel to sit out 14 days before rejoining their respective teams or groups.

“We get it. We know it stinks (for the kids), but we’ve tried explaining to the schools that would you want one kid out for 14 days (after a trip) or an entire team out for 14 days if he or she comes back with it and more kids on the field get it and an entire team is then down for 14 days,” Sproull said. “It’s definitely not the most popular decision.”

Union Local actually announced this course of action in the middle of last week shortly after Shadyside and Bellaire opted to shut down and just before St. Clairsville and Martins Ferry suspended workouts through July 8.

“I’ve talked to all of the schools superintendents and most of the athletic directors,” Sproull said. “I just offer the recommendations.”

As surrounding schools dealt with suspensions of workouts, Bridgeport was able to avoid such measures. However, Superintendent Brent Ripley announced Monday that the Bulldogs’ brass has decided to follow the recommendation of the health department and ask student-athletes who visit Texas, Florida or South Carolina to stay away for the 14 days period.

“We talked to the health director and we agreed that it’s easier to quarantine one than put the whole team on restriction,” Ripley said. “We had some families with some concerns, but we talked with our board of education, our athletic director and came up with this decision that we feel is best.”

Ripley credited his coaches, staff, student athletes and their families for following the OHSAA guidelines and allowing the Bulldogs teams to continue to workout.

“We’ve had good luck using the guidelines and we’ll continue to do our best with hopes of slowing (the virus) down in Bridgeport,” Ripley said. “There is going to be a lot of continued growth and learning for everyone in the coming days and weeks.”

Sproull said schools allowing their students to rejoin their teams and groups would be “rolling the dice” that they’re not sick.

“We’re basing that on half of the kids won’t show any symptoms, but they’ll still be a carrier,” Sproull said.

Sproull indicated that getting tested immediately upon arrival home wouldn’t be a tell all because of the incubation period that the virus needs before it might be discovered in a test.

“Usually, it takes five to seven days, on average, for the virus to really show up in someone’s system,” Sproull said. “We had someone come back from a trip to Panama City and it took 12 or 13 days before that person tested positive. Each person is a little different.”

Sproull, who is an assistant golf coach at St. Clairsville, believes sports in the fall “can be accomplished,” but it’s going to take everyone being on the same page.

“We have to be honest and that’s the biggest thing,” Sproull said. “If one kid has to stay out of the game or sport for 14 days, so be it. If you try and hide it and then another kid gets sick, you may end up as a contact in the long run and more people are out for additional time.”

As for other area schools, Barnesville superintendent Angela Hannahs said Shamrock student-athletes “will be subject to the health screening requirements outlined by Gov. (Mike) DeWine and the OHSAA prior to joining any workout.”

Shadyside, which resumed workouts on Monday, will not be implementing the plan, according to Superintendent John Haswell.

Though St. Clairsville remains shutdown, Superintendent Walt Skaggs said, via text, the school district has not yet implemented the recommendation to have student-athletes stay away from their teams after coming back from vacation.

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