Football season kicks off Aug. 20 amid COVID concerns

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FOLEY, Alabama — The start of the fall high school sports season is just around the corner and with the Coronavirus outbreak at the height of many people’s concerns, fans are left wondering what this season will look like on the sidelines and in stands throughout Baldwin County.

While there was no official response as of deadline Wednesday from either the Baldwin County Public School System or Gulf Shores City Schools on how they plan to execute COVID protocols, the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Alabama Department of Public Health have issued safety guidelines for both the sidelines and in the stands.

In a memorandum dated Thursday, Aug. 6 AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese urged superintendents, principals and athletic directors to review the “AHSAA Best Practices Return to Play” found at ahsaa.com and the “Current Order of the State Health Officer” found at alabamapublichealth.gov.

“The Best Practices for Return to Play is an easy to read document based on information presented by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH),” according to the memo, “and it provides basic guidance for schools to commence the 2020-21 athletic seasons.”

The nine-page document approved by the Alabama Board of Education on July 22 and updated July 29 provides guidance for preseason practices, regular season and post season play and includes guidelines for physical distancing, wearing masks, sanitation of facilities, ticketing and transportation guidelines.

“Many schools have reached out to the AHSAA for guidance regarding what to do if and when a student-athlete or coach tests positive for COVID-19,” according to the memo. “Assistance related to quarantining and isolation can be found in the ADPH Back to School Toolkit, and in accordance with the ALSDE Roadmap to Reopening Schools and the Toolkit, contact tracing is an ADPH function and not the responsibility of local schools.”

Anyone with questions is advised to contact any AHSAA staff member.

“We pray you all remain safe and well and are hopeful you are practicing ADPH safety guidelines,” according to the memo. “Your influential leadership and support during these trying times are extremely appreciated, as we are counting on each of you to be a role model for our student-athletes regarding ADPH guidelines.”

A press release issued Friday, Aug. 7 from the Alabama Department of Public Health offers the following guidelines under the state’s current Safer at Home public health order, which runs through Aug. 31:

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in the release that the AHSAA memo said that Best Practices guidance the association issued last month “was created to mitigate - not eliminate - the risk of COVID-19.”

The memo issued Thursday says schools are “strongly encouraged to establish and follow policies for limiting event attendance in order to comply” with the current public health order, and to require fans to wear facial coverings while entering and exiting the gates, while in the stands, and elsewhere. Harris stressed that the current public health order applies to schools and school-related events.

“In addition, all persons with symptoms and all persons with known exposure to a COVID-19 positive case must quarantine for at least 14 days,” according to the release. “Persons who are awaiting test results for COVID-19 should also remain at home until they receive results and guidance from their physician, healthcare provider, or the health department.”

Having a negative test does not eliminate the requirement for home quarantine when people come in close contact with a COVID-19 positive case or remain symptomatic without another diagnosis, according to the release.

Retesting to obtain negative results, after having COVID-19 infection, is not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or by the Alabama Department of Public Health. Thus, repeat testing is not recommended for return to work or school after a person recovers from COVID-19.  

The Spanish Fort Toros and the Fairhope Pirates are set to kick off the 2020 high school football season on Thursday, Aug. 20 at Fairhope Municipal Stadium.

Five Baldwin County public schools will host contests on Friday, Aug. 21 including two county rivalry games, Elberta at Gulf Shores and Foley at Robertsdale, while Baldwin County High School will host Mary G. Montgomery of Semmes, Daphne will host Lee High School of Montgomery and Orange Beach will host J.F. Shields of Beatrice.

Spanish Fort will take on St. Paul’s, Elberta will square off against Robertsdale and Foley will host 7A Region 1 rival Murphy for their first home contests on Aug. 28.

Among private schools, Bayside will start its season Aug. 21 at Escambia County High School in Atmore and will be on the road two more weeks before hosting Hillcrest of Evergreen on Sept. 11.

St. Michael’s will start their season Aug. 28 at home vs McIntosh. Snook Christian Academy had its first two games, at St. Patrick High School of Biloxi, and at Rocky Bayou Christian in Niceville, Florida, canceled because of the virus. The Eagles will host their first home contest against Jackson Academy Sept. 4 at Summerdale School's stadium.

Bayside and St. Michael’s both follow Alabama High School Athletic Association protocols while Snook is governed by the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA).