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APS to begin testing athletes for COVID-19

(Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect APS’ policy change regarding testing athletes, making it optional instead of mandatory.)

Starting Monday, the spring-sport athletes at the 13 high schools in Albuquerque Public Schools will begin to be tested for COVID-19.

Athletes are to be chosen for testing on a rotating, random basis. Originally, APS said athletes would be prohibited from playing their sport, according to a letter written Monday by APS athletic director Kenny Barreras, addressed to spring sports athletes and their families.

But on Thursday, APS Superintendent Scott Elder said participation would not be mandatory.

Earlier this month, the Public Education Department instructed its schools to begin surveillance testing of students in extra-curricular activities, which includes sports.

For APS, each week there will be testing of 20 student-athletes at each school, or 25 percent of a school’s sports teams, whichever number is higher.

“School surveillance testing programs test asymptomatic individuals to discover undiagnosed cases and to better understand the rate of infection in the community,” PED Secretary Dr. Ryan Stewart wrote in a letter to schools on April 8.

Students 16 and older who show proof of being fully vaccinated, or those who have tested positive for COVID in the past 90 days, won’t have to participate.

The state said it has a goal of testing 10 percent of students in sports or activities.

“The way it was put to us is that this is how we’re going to feel comfortable,” APS Superintendent Scott Elder said in an interview Wednesday. “It will help (districts) to identify cases earlier, and this is how we will keep spring sports happening.”

Elder is on record with his desire to see APS be able to conduct both in-person graduation ceremonies and its spring sports seasons, which were lost in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s spring sports calendar ends Saturday, June 26. In APS, four of the five traditional spring sports are underway. Track and field begins this weekend.

APS has partnered with Curative-19 Testing & Health Services to perform saliva swab tests of athletes every week, continuing through the end of state playoff events.

Each of the 13 high schools will be visited on a chosen day of the week, at which point the individual school will produce the athletes who are to be tested on that day.

Results of the tests will be shared with parents/guardians and the school’s on-site AD, according to Barreras’ letter. Those who test positive will have to quarantine and will be prohibited from practices and competitions. Those determined to have been in close contact with an individual testing positive will also have to quarantine.

The list of athletes to be tested each week will be generated the Thursday prior, Elder said, adding that athletes will know in advance that they are being asked to be tested. The number of athletes being tested will vary from school to school depending on the number of total athletes in the five spring sports. Elder said he expects some athletes to be tested more than once.

And Elder conceded that with more testing, there could be a rise in positive cases.

“That’s possible,” he said.

But Elder said this program is what has been presented to school districts, and that it could prove beneficial.

“Look at professional leagues, look at the NCAA. They were able to keep athletics going (through) surveillance testing,” Elder said. “These kids deserve (to play their spring sport), and we are saying to athletes, you have to participate in this program to play. … My hope is that this gives the Department of Health enough comfort that we can continue to participate in spring sports.”

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