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Student produces positive virus test

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An Ellsworth USD 327 student-athlete has tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, forcing district officials to temporarily suspend a portion of the junior-senior high school summer conditioning program until August.

Superintendent Dale Brungardt made the announcement Saturday morning on the district’s website. The Ellsworth County Health Department and the student’s parents notified the district of the positive test result, Brungardt said. Those results were obtained Friday.

The family has been instructed to self-quarantine.

“We are alerting you to this development because we believe that open communication and district health (are) important,” Brungardt said.

County health officials were working with the student to determine possible exposures during conditioning sessions occurring on July 17, 20, 22 and 24. Only individuals suspected of being in close contact with the student during those four sessions would be contacted by the county health department to determine contact and risk levels and provide a course of action. However, if parents suspect their child was exposed and didn’t receive a phone call, they can still contact the county health department at (785) 531-0614.

Because of the exposure, school officials decided to suspend the 8-9:30 a.m. junior high conditioning session until Aug. 7. It was the only session to be quarantined, the superintendent said.

In the meantime, Brungardt said the district continues to follow its safety and health plan, which includes using masks, sanitizing hands, wiping down equipment and disinfecting rooms between sessions.

“We are committed to providing a safe and healthy educational experience and work environment for all of our students and employees,” he said. “We also endeavor to be a positive service to our community. It is in the interest of those goals that we provide this information out of an abundance of caution.”

The district started its summer conditioning program June 8 for high school and junior high student-athletes preparing for the upcoming fall sports season. To minimize possible exposure, the high-school boys used the school’s weight room from 6:30-8 a.m., followed by the high school girls from 8-9:30 a.m. The junior high boys and girls also practiced from 8-9:30 a.m. outside on the track and football field, which allowed for social distancing. As a precaution, the school’s water fountains were shut off, so students brought their own water bottles to practice. Equipment was also cleaned between sessions in addition to daily sanitizing by the school’s custodial staff, officials said.

“As a district, we really just wanted to stick with the governor’s plan,” EJSHS Athletic Director Ron Davis Jr. said. “Originally, we could’ve started June 1, but by starting a week later, during Phase 3, it was more manageable. We just wanted to keep them safe.”

But when Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly issued an executive order in early July requiring most Kansans to wear a mask in public or in places where they could not maintain social distancing, district officials had to rethink their approach.

So on July 6, school officials decided to require masks for all indoor summer activities, including weights, basketball and volleyball skill workouts, and activities where social distancing could not be maintained.

“In July, with cases spiking, the virus was becoming more concerning,” Davis said. “So we came back from the July 4 holiday requiring masks to be worn during workouts. Kids are resilient. They adjust and adapt better than adults do. After a week, it just became routine.”

While the decision resulted in the loss of a few students, Davis said more than 90 percent continued to attend workouts.

While a new mandate from Kelly requires students to wear masks when school resumes this fall, Davis isn’t concerned about students complying.

“For those students already wearing masks as part of summer conditioning, it won’t be a big adjustment. They’re already used to it,” he said. “They want their season, and are willing to make the sacrifice.”

While the weight room has been busy this summer, it wasn’t the only place students were hitting to prepare for the upcoming season. The Lady ‘Cats volleyball team used the Zoom video conferencing app for regular, early morning workouts. Head Coach Amy Johnson said

Head Coach Amy Johnson said she’s consistently seen a larger turnout this summer compared to previous years. Johnson said she had up to 26 high school athletes at each Zoom workout, which was led by the team’s four seniors. As workouts stretched into July, at least 20 athletes have been in the gym twice a week.

“The girls were dedicated and never complained about going from volleyball to weights to basketball,” she said. “I really think they were excited to be together with their volleyball family. They have all had positive attitudes and worked hard. We talked a lot about being smart, thinking of others, wearing masks, which they wore while we were in the gym. I think our conversations as a team were just as important as the activity. We are blessed with awesome kids at EJSHS, and my volleyball girls have been amazing this summer.”