Five student-athletes at Labette Community College tested positive for COVID-19 after the school conducted testing on every athlete — approximately 140 — who arrived onto campus for the fall semester.
Four of the five positive cases returned home safely to isolate while the fifth case is isolating in a house off-campus.
“Obviously we don’t want the virus spreading,” Labette Athletic Director Aaron Keal said. “We didn’t want to spread it through the dorms or through our athletes. We want to limit exposure.”
Keal said that the detection of the five positive cases of the coronavirus was a result of health protocol and testing working as intended.
“It was wonderful that we had folks to do the testing for us,” Keal said. “It was another step in our normal procedure that we did to be safe. That’s part of taking care of one another.”
The Labette County Health Department is conducting contact tracing from the five positive cases. According to a press release from the school, any on-ground students who are asked to isolate due to a positive test or quarantine because of exposure to a case are encouraged to return home and complete coursework remotely.
“We’re trying our best to keep everybody safe,” Keal said. “Before the athletes even got here, we stressed that they needed to stay away from one another until they got the test results.”
There are still about a dozen student-athletes who have yet to arrive to campus for various reasons. For example, one softball player is still arranging her arrival from Australia.
Those athletes will either be tested upon arrival or will need to provide documentation of a recent negative test.
Labette is slated to being its fall semester on Monday. The NJCAA moved the start of nearly all athletics – including all sports at Labette – to the spring semester in an effort to mitigate the spread of the pandemic.
“We’re just trying to do what’s best and stay within the guidelines. It’s tough. There’s no map for this going on,” Keal said.
Sports will be able to hold practices in the fall. Keal and the Labette coaches are still ironing out practice plans for the fall to limit potential exposures. Labette operates six sports — volleyball, wrestling, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and softball. All will start their seasons in the spring semester, with volleyball, wrestling and basketball starting the earliest.
Keal said there shouldn’t be more than two teams in the gym at any one time. “Hopefully by the spring time, we can find a spot for the baseball and softball teams to practice inside. With all six teams going at the same that’ll create some problems. But that’ll also help keep people away from one another,” Keal said.
Labette will have a health screening station installed at the front of its gymnasium where student-athletes will be temperature checked and screened.
“We’re focused every day on wellness checks,” Keal said. “We’ll have a health station that will take their temperature and screens the athletes at the front door of the gym. Each day they come into practice or for a meeting, they’ll go through that.”
Keal said he wants to test the student-athletes again when they return from extended breaks, such as winter break.
“I would think we would probably want to,” Keal said. “That would be the smartest thing to do to keep everybody safe. Especially at the semester break with six sports starting up.”
The Kansas Jayhawk Conference meets on Wednesday as part of the process to prepare protocol for the 2020-21 season.
“I just hope we can get our scheduling worked out,” Keal said. “We’re starting with all of that with a meeting with the conference tomorrow. I understand that steps will be small but safe. Nobody wants anything bad on their campus.”