Columbia HS Suspends Tennis Practice as Student-Athlete Tests Positive for Covid; School, Town Officials Warn Against House Parties

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Several parties reportedly held over the weekend have led to at least one positive Covid case among Columbia High School students, and a two-week suspension of practices of the girls’ tennis team. 

Superintendent Dr. Ronald G. Taylor notified the community in an email on Tuesday, October 13 that the district had learned that two CHS students had tested positive for Covid; one is suspected of having contracted the virus at a house party. The students have been quarantined and the health departments of both towns are contact-tracing the cases, Taylor said.

“Both are students enrolled at Columbia High School, one is a student-athlete on our tennis team,” Taylor wrote. “The other student (non-athlete with no exposure to students on our school sites) unfortunately is suspected to have been infected from their attendance at a possible house-party/celebratory gathering.  The cases which have been identified at this point have been localized to specific areas outside of sanctioned District-related sporting practices/events or school areas.

“District administration has been in contact with the Maplewood and South Orange Departments of Health as well as town officials. Members of the CHS Tennis team have been notified and are quarantining.   As of today, the District has decided to suspend all tennis matches/practices for the next two weeks.   At this point, there are no other known cases of any other student-athlete exposure or confirmed Covid-positive cases. Therefore, our existing NJSIAA-mandated fall sports practices/schedules (these sports currently include: football, boys’ & girls’ soccer, cheerleading, band, field hockey and boys & girls’ cross-country) will continue as normal and we will continue to adhere to our COVID-safety measures to ensure that our student-athletes and staff are safe.”

See the full email attached as a PDF:

Download (PDF, 269KB)

Taylor said that due to privacy concerns, the district was not permitted to share any further information. He is urging anyone who might have been exposed to a positive or suspected case to be tested and to quarantine until the results are available. In addition, anyone who tests positive or whose family members test positive should notify administration.

Testing is taking place at the Maplewood Pool through the end of the month.

“We also want to remind families/students that we are not out of the woods yet,” Taylor continued. “The CDC and state guidelines continue to encourage mitigation strategies to keep COVID cases from spiking again. Among them social gatherings (without mask-wearing or social distancing) can become super-spread events, please make sure to continue to follow guidelines.”

South Orange Village President Sheena Collum announced last night that there were 5 positive Covid cases in one day (including one teenager), the highest number since April, and urged teens not to host or attend house parties. Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee issued a similar warning.

Ultimate Frisbee practices have also been suspended after one student-athlete tested positive, potentially from attending one of the weekend house parties, according to reports from parents and emails from the coach. Another player has been tested after exposure to a Covid-positive player at that party, but apparently was not attending practices while infected. Ultimate is a club sport and as such not officially under the auspices of the district.

It is not clear whether that student has been reported to the district as Covid-positive; we are following up with the district.

Coaches of other teams — including girls’ and boys’ soccer and boys’ lacrosse, which hasn’t started its season yet, have sent emails or texts asking players to be cautious of socializing when sports teams can be at risk, and to get tested if they were potentially exposed to the virus from parties and gatherings. “I’m not saying don’t enjoy your senior year, but if we aren’t smart and people get sick they will shut down all sports seasons,” the lacrosse coach wrote.

Below is the email from the Ultimate coach, sent to parents and players on October 12.

Dear CHS Ultimate Families,
It came to our attention last night that two CHS seniors who are not affiliated with our program have tested positive for Covid-19 and that few other CHS students are currently showing symptoms. Our understanding is that the school has been notified and Maplewood’s health department is looking into the situation. 
We have been told that two of our players attended social events/parties with at least one of the individuals who tested positive (although they maintain that they were never in close contact with anyone who is known or suspected to have Covid). Given that we don’t know how far this may have spread within the Columbia HS/SOMA community, the possibility also remains that other members of our program may have unknowingly come into contact with the virus. 
As a result of this evolving, fluid situation the CHS Ultimate program will be suspending all in-person activities for a minimum of two weeks.
Although we have been wearing masks during all drills/activities and maintaining distance whenever possible at practice, and while we have no concrete reason to believe that anyone in the program has been infected, this is the most responsible course of action at this time. We ask that all players and families vigilantly monitor their health and follow best practices about social distancing, face coverings and hand washing. 
A follow up email later that day reported that at least one player on the Ultimate team had in fact tested positive for Covid-19 and the other was awaiting test results: “To our knowledge, no other pods have known contact with anyone who has tested positive or is suspected to have Covid,” the coach wrote. “We hope that this is the extent of the exposure to our players and that the protocols and plans we have implemented for practice have done their job in minimizing the risk to other players. We will continue to monitor the situation and communicate updates as openly and quickly as we can.”

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