Onto the Field

George Walton Academy football players storm Don Williams Stadium at Keith Henderson Field before the Bulldogs’ game against Providence Christian on Oct. 4, 2019, in Monroe, Ga.

MONROE, Ga. — George Walton Academy has suspended football practices after at least one player has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Last Friday, two players reported they may have been exposed to COVID-19, so both were tested,” Head of School Dan Dolan said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“Since one test was positive, practices were suspended for two weeks and players were encouraged to continue their conditioning in isolation at home as long as they are asymptomatic. After this two-week period, players may return to practice as long as they have no symptoms.”

The Georgia High School Association, which is the sanctioning body for interscholastic competition in the state, has allowed on-campus workouts since last month with numerous precautions.

Monday, the GHSA board of trustees voted unanimously to delay the first week of the high school football season by two weeks, to Sept. 4. The season will remain with 10 games over 12 weeks, with a five-round playoff.

Preseason conditioning may begin July 27, as previously slated. The schedule for other fall sports is unchanged.

Some school districts like Atlanta Public Schools might have ditched fall sports entirely without a two-week delay for football, GHSA trustee Jasper Jewell said.

Several rules are in place for high school football teams including prohibiting use of locker rooms, sanitizing helmets before and after workouts, drinking only from personal water bottles and reporting positive COVID-19 test results to the GHSA.

Parents, local school officials and public health experts in Georgia have roundly warned of safety risks involved in resuming classes for the 2020-21 school year without measures in place like options to start with online instructions, social distancing for in-person classes and the importance of masks.

The state Department of Education has issued guidelines and recommendations aimed at helping local school districts decide how to hold classes in the fall via a mix of regular in-person classes and online instruction options.

Dolan said GWA has a policy that any student who tests positive for COVID-19 must stay home for 14 days and may not return to school or extracurricular activities until testing negative.

“Students who may have been exposed must also stay home for 14 days,” he said. “The safety of our students, faculty and staff is paramount.

“Our very clear goal is to safely return to campus and remain on campus. We believe that preparing students academically, socially and emotionally is best achieved on campus with their teachers and their friends.

“All else is secondary to this.”

Classes switched to all-online instructions in March to close out the 2019-20 school year as the COVID-19 outbreak in Georgia took hold.

Professional and amateur sports — including high school teams — were given the green light by Gov. Brian Kemp last month to resume training and competitions so long as they followed self-imposed distancing and cleanliness rules.

Kemp has suggested he could move to shut down sports in the fall if enough Georgians do not voluntarily wear masks in public. He has opposed mandating masks in the state, going so far as to sue Atlanta officials last week to block the city’s recent masking requirement and reopening rollback.

Walton County had 669 cumulative confirmed cases as of Tuesday afternoon, the Georgia Department of Public Health said. There had been 32 people hospitalized with 78 deaths.

Beau Evans of Capitol Beat News Service contributed to this report.

Email: david.clemons@waltontribune.com

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