School district’s COVID-19 response put to the test

By Michael Kinney

Gary Dees knew at some point it was going to happen. The Director of Athletics for Lawton Public School knew keeping the coronavirus pandemic out of the hallways and practice fields completely were going to be an impossible task.

Yet, Dees wanted to make sure the system was ready for the day it had to deal with a positive case.

That day came sooner than they probably expected when a student-athlete at Eisenhower High tested positive for COVID-19.

The student-athlete was taking part in offseason practices Thursday along with several other students.

“I got a phone call late on Thursday afternoon of last week. It was the coach. They had practiced that morning and they did all the protocols that we had set forth: checking temperatures, hand washing, hand sanitize and bringing their own towels, bringing their own water bottles,” Dees said. “The coaches would always check and make sure that any student that wasn’t feeling good, they were advised to send them home. But the kid had no symptoms and no temperature at the time of the workout. Later on that day after the practice, he developed a temperature and started feeling bad. And so the parents took him to the wellness center and they did a test. Of course, it comes back positive, and I was told the next day.”

Dees would not release the name of the student or the sport he played. But he said all protocols were followed before and after they were notified of the positive test.

“I worked with Lynn Cordes who’s the media person at Shoemaker,” Dees said. “Worked with her, kind of worked with the Health Department just making sure that we did everything that we needed to do. And as a result of that, what we’ve done is we have halted athletics at Eisenhower for two weeks to just make sure that we’re doing everything we can do to prevent the spread of COVID.”

Because the knew it was a possibility a student-athlete would become infected by the disease, Dees said they had a plan in place for just such a contingency.

“The plan involved, how do we prevent it in the first stage? But we knew that if there was a positive test that since it’s the summer, we would quarantine the team, anybody that was in contact with the student,” Dees said. “In this case immediately we quarantined the sport. And then later on we decided it would be best to quarantine the whole sporting department.”

According to Dees, all practices and workouts at Eisenhower have been stopped. But the school district did not tell parents to keep their kids quarantined at home and away from others.

“I’m not telling them that they can’t be out in public. I’m just saying we’re not going to meet as groups,” Dees said. “And it’s suggested, it’s recommended that they not do that. But what we’re saying is, is we’re not going to meet as a team. We’re not going to be at our facilities, and the coaches are not going to meet with them either.”

LPS used social media Saturday morning to notify the public of the positive COVID-19 test. The announcement stated , “the Health Department is in the process of contacting anyone in the next 24 hours that needs to be notified. If you are contacted by the Health Department, please follow their recommendations. The District continues to follow the guidance and procedures set forth by the National Federation of High School Sports (NFHS) for summer athletics. Personal health procedures and disinfecting measures continue to be in place. Additionally, deep cleaning will occur over the weekend. Furthermore, we are in constant communication and in full cooperation with CCHD as we follow their guidance.”

According to Dees, the school district also informed all parents of student-athletes who had been at the training sessions.

“That was a part of coach Eric Gibson. He called each parent and made them aware,” Dees said. “It was sent out over social media. Interviews were done through the newspaper and TV.”

However, several parents have said they did not hear from anyone from the school or school district.

Dees said the procedures the district had in place worked out the way it had been planned.

“I think the plan that we had in place was a great plan and we executed well,” Dees said. “It was myself, and the coach, and the principal, and administration from Shoemaker. And we all jumped on it that night and attacked it and worked into the late hours. And then the next morning we started again and worked on it that morning. We kind of knew that this had the potential to happen, but what it made us realize is, is when we go back to school, that this is definitely a learning situation for that time.”

Despite that, Dees does have concerns about what will happen once school is let back in and fall sports are off and running. He is not completely confident that COVID-19 will not interrupt the seasons.

“I would say there’s a chance that the sports could be affected by COVID, definitely,” Dees said. “This is kind of a day-by-day situation. The virus doesn’t seem like it’s going away. So I would think that there’s a good chance that it could affect our fall sports. We’re waiting for guidance from the OSSAA on how we’re going to proceed. And so it’s kind of an everyday thing and we’re learning new things every day. And what has happened today could change within the next 30 days. But I am concerned about having fall sports.”

Story By Michael Kinney/Michael Kinney Media

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