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South River football shut down by COVID, third Anne Arundel team halted in as many days

For the third straight day, an Anne Arundel County varsity football program is being shut down because of COVID-19.

South River High will cease in-person activities for both its varsity and JV football teams and end their campaign after just two games into the four-week season, which ends April 16. The Seahawks were set to play Annapolis on Friday and Old Mill next week. They finish their season 1-1.

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Northeast High School’s varsity and JV teams were shut down late Wednesday after a fourth positive case of the virus among the two programs. On Tuesday, Glen Burnie’s varsity team had announced a positive case that resulted in the entire team entering a 14-day quarantine period. Neither team will play another game.

A student-athlete who tested positive was last a participant in the program’s practices on Monday and was last in the school building Tuesday, which comes a week after a separate student in the building tested positive in an unrelated case on March 29.

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Because members of varsity and JV teams practiced together on Monday and because close contacts could not be definitively determined, all student-athletes who attended that practice must quarantine for 14 days.

“Shutting down our football program was a difficult but necessary decision made in the best interests of the health and safety of our students and staff and only after thorough contact tracing,” South River principal Stacey Smith wrote in a letter to parents of football players Thursday. “It is important to understand that we are in the midst of a pandemic. All of our programs take the necessary precautions in order to operate and no one is at fault for the spread of this virus. It is in a time like this that we all must support each other, and I know that we will do that.”

County schools spokesman Bob Mosier said the JV and varsity teams at South River practiced together “out of sheer numbers” as participation was down for the shortened season.

He said the issue is similar to the one at Northeast: contact tracing.

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“I think it’s important to understand that we’re not talking about a rash of positive cases,” Mosier said. “This is a matter of determining close contacts and ruling kids out and ruling kids in, so that’s the net that this gets caught on. This is just a single positive case.”

To determine if a player or coach is deemed a close contact, the county has a team of contact tracers that includes former school employees who had retired. They meet with Mosier, county Coordinator of Athletics Clayton Culp, the school’s principal and assistant principal, the athletic director and coaches for the team.

“It can seem, honestly, like an inquisition for coaches,” Mosier said. “It’s not meant to be an inquisition; it’s just meant to obtain as much information as we can as we try to make the best decision that we can.”

Coaches are asked a variety of questions about the practice and the minutes before and after. Among them are: What time did the players arrive? Have they arrived? Where are they before practice starts? Are they in their cars in the parking lot? Are they congregating someplace outside the school where they might be closer together? How do your players check-in for practice? Where did they put their gear and water bottles and how far apart were they?

“And then we go, painstakingly, frankly, through every single drill of a practice,” Mosier said. " … It’s a pretty extensive conversation.”

Mosier noted Superintendent George Arlotto remains committed to provide as many opportunities for student-athletes in athletics “as long as we can do it in a safe and healthy manner.”

“We’re going to continue on,” Mosier said.

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