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How 8 high school football teams are responding to direct and indirect positive cases of COVID-19

5 teams have confirmed having a player test positive for COVID-19, while Herriman had a staff member test positive last weekend

Herriman’s football team joined the growing list of programs that have been forced to alter or suspend practices over the past few weeks because of COVID-19. A member of Herriman’s coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Herriman’s football team joined the growing list of programs that have been forced to alter or suspend practices over the past few weeks because of COVID-19.

A member of Herriman’s coaching staff tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend, and after consulting with the administrators and the Jordan School District, head coach Dustin Pearce agreed canceling what were already going to be three light practices this week was the safest decision.

Herriman will plan on resuming practice on June 7, and the Salt Lake County Health Department will send a mobile testing unit to Herriman High on Wednesday for free COVID-19 testing as a precautionary measure.

The staff member started to feel symptoms last Tuesday night and hasn’t had contact with anyone associated with the team since. Pearce said no other players or coaches have shown symptoms since.

While Herriman is the first known school to have a reported case in the coaching staff, at least five teams along the Wasatch Front have had a player test positive since practices resumed in early June. Another two teams had players miss practice because they had been in contact with someone who eventually tested positive.

Layton, Syracuse, Mountain Crest, Sky View and Corner Canyon all had a player test positive for COVID-19 in June, each responding slightly differently based on school and district procedures.

Pearce isn’t surprise at all by the positive tests.

“This has been my perspective the whole time. I’ve anticipated this happening in the summer, and what if it happens during the season? Everyone wants to play football, absolutely, but if this is the procedure we have to follow then how are we going to have a football season?” said Pearce.

It’s a sentiment shared by coaches around the state, who wonder how a season can happen if two-week shutdowns are the norm with positive tests.

Of the schools that have been affected, only Layton, Mountain Crest and Weber have opted for a two-week shutdown after the positive test or contact. Weber never had a player test positive, but multiple players came in contact with someone who tested positive at a basketball tournament in mid-June and the school believed a shutdown was the best way to prevent potential spread.

For Syracuse, Corner Canyon and Sky View, by using a form of contact tracing it was able to avoid a complete practice shutdown. A big reason why is they were adhering to the strict practice guidelines set forth by their school districts.

When Syracuse had a player test positive two weeks ago, coach Mike Knight said it was easy to identify which players were potentially exposed as the team was diligent in sanitizing, practicing in small position groups and weightlifting with the same people.

After consulting with the Davis County Health Department, it determined only four other players were a high risk to contract the virus — which nobody eventually did.

Corner Canyon and Sky View handled it similarly. Those who were in contact with the player who eventually tested positive were told to isolate away from the team. Those players were easier to identify because of the extra precautions teams are taking before, during and after practice.

Honesty is another key to staying safe, according to Brighton coach Justin Hemm.

“What we’ve really stressed is if you have any of those symptoms, honesty. You’re not going to be held accountable, you’re not going to be shunned or disciplined for missing practice, you stay home. We don’t want to spread this, even if it’s a sore throat we want the kids to stay home,” said Hemm.

Brighton had several players miss an extended period of time after they came in contact with someone who eventually tested positive with the virus.

Hemm’s concern is how will schools and school districts respond if similar things unfold during the regular season. Will forfeits become commonplace this fall?

Skyridge coach Jon Lehman said there have been no positive tests this summer for his 122 players and 20 coaches, and hyper-diligence he hopes is a reason why.

“We’ve talked with our coaching staff and our kids all summer just about doing the right thing to put us in the best position possible to play, and the response from our kids has been awesome all summer,” said Lehman. “We’ve been able to continue to work out and practice and get a lot of our stuff installed. The cost of that is we just have to do symptom checks every single day and a ton of education on what you would feel if you were potentially positive for COVID, and then just respect each other and do the right thing.”

West Jordan coach Carson Mund said there’s only so much coaches can do though.

“We’re doing everything we can for the three hours we have them, but we can’t control what the kids do when we leave the school,” said Mund.

Riverton coach Jody Morgan, the president of the Utah High School Football Coaches Association, is meeting with the UHSAA to discuss the Aug. 13 scheduled start to the season and potential contingencies should they become necessary.