Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) swim and dive state championships scheduled for Nov. 5-6 have been moved from Juneau to Anchorage after the City and Borough of Juneau and ASAA could not come to agreement on COVID-19 mitigation policies for teams attending.
CBJ Deputy City Manager Robert Barr said any indoor gathering of more than 20 people at the city's current risk level required a community mitigation strategy exemption that included two testing components, one of which was the requirement that all participants take a COVID-19 test upon arrival in Juneau.
“Because the state swim meet is very large, a significant number of people, it would have been the largest event in town in quite some time,” Barr said. “In an environment where masking is not always possible - you can’t wear a mask while swimming, it just doesn’t work - we were hoping to have a testing piece in place where individuals would test prior to departure and then again once they were here before participating in the meet. That second part of that testing piece, for once individuals were here, didn’t work for ASAA.”
ASAA Executive Director Billy Strickland said the CBJ testing component was a potential conundrum for the schools.
“I understand what their thought process was,” Strickland said. “But when you role play that out from a school standpoint… schools are very willing to test students prior to traveling and most schools are heavily in favor of doing so… but if you test once you arrive at site and find out you have a participant positive, well, now in Juneau, you can’t fly that kid home for 10 days, minimal. When you have to fly in somewhere and then test it opens up some real logistical issues that we felt schools would end up saying they could not attend under those conditions.”
ASAA sent the announcement of the venue change to swim teams around the state on Sept. 9. Strickland noted that ASAA did not expect student-athletes to test upon arrival in Anchorage but would honor the prior departure tests as good for 72 hours, depending on the type of testing - molecular or antigen.
Juneau has not "lost" state hosting rights but rather has been offered hosting rights in either 2022 or 2023 when the coronavirus pandemic and is in a more manageable position across the state.
Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss noted their exemption plan for the swim meet had been accepted by the CBJ and that ASAA is still awarding Juneau a state swim hosting site.
“The decision was made to delay it a year or two, but hopefully one year, and we would host next time around,” Weiss said.
The swim and dive venue had been the Dimond Park Aquatic center, a city facility run by the city, thus the community mitigation strategy exemption was needed.
While other school properties are owned by the city they are run by the school. The Juneau Huskies football team plays on Adair Kennedy Field and will host one, if not two, ASAA state football playoff games against teams from either Anchorage or Palmer. There is an extreme outside chance community mitigation policies would cause a change of venue.
“We are still working on those details,” Weiss said. “One of the key differences is that football is outdoors and it is on school property but not inside a CBJ facility. But there is a difference when we are using the pool that is literally owned, delivered, the whole thing - that is not our facility. It’s like when we go over and use ice at Treadwell. That is not a school district facility, it’s a city facility that we use to carry out one of our activities.”
Another positive aspect of the current football mitigation plans are they travel to and return from games in one day.
Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop said their schools follow that same strategy.
“It is important for us to continue to travel,” Bishop said. “Afternoon games are a big part of being able to keep our student athletes safe, whether we are traveling to Juneau or Juneau is traveling up here.”
Bishop noted that the risk level of contracting or spreading COVID-19 rises sharply in sleepovers as social distancing and masking is harder to supervise.
“The goal is to keep these kids playing,” Bishop said. “We want to continue to protect student-athletes without compromising their sport or activity or participation. We really want young people to experience what young people experience and part of high school athletics is a part of that, and a very large part of that for many students. We encourage it.”
ASD students and coaches show proof of vaccination if identified as a close contact to avoid quarantine. Coaches must be vaccinated to be among youth and/or chaperone. Rosters and daily attendance are maintained for points of contact.
“We encourage vaccinations,” Bishop said. “In our city we don’t have any kind of universal masking policy. However, inside ASD buildings we do. It is generally a choice outside but I would say, generally, 30-40% of people in our stands are masked up. And of course no one can participate if they have any symptoms, ASD is symptom free.”
However, the ASD has not implemented mass screenings such as the JSD does.
Billy Strickland said a Pre-Competition COVID Testing Policy is going before the ASAA Board.
“We want to have policies put in place that schools can feel comfortable that it is safe,” he said. “But also that it is not so restrictive that their answer is, 'Well, I am just not going to go to the state tournament now.’”
ASAA is adopting similar testing protocols that were implemented for the state wrestling championships last season.
The policy would require participants be cleared via one of the following three options:
1- Obtain a negative test via a molecular test within 72 hours of competition - if results have not come back by day of competition, a same day negative antigen test result may be used.
2 - Twice weekly antigen or molecular testing - tests must be taken on two non-consecutive days within each week, ideally separated by at least 72 hours, with a minimum of two tests.
3 - Once weekly antigen IF the antigen testing is conducted not more than 24 hours prior to each event and with a minimum of two weekly antigen tests required prior to first competition.
If a participant tests positive the question is whether the whole team is eliminated or only the one player and the answer is an individual’s vaccination status will determine if they must quarantine -
• If the teammate or coach has been vaccinated and test negative on their pre-competition test, they will NOT have to quarantine.
• If the participant has NOT been vaccinated, they will have to quarantine. This is true even if they have a negative test.
Fully vaccinated participants are NOT exempt from pre-competition testing.
An exemption from pre-competition testing for a person who has had a diagnosed case of COVID-19 within the last 90 days is possible if the athlete provides proof of a previously positive result of a molecular based test for SARS-CoV2 within 90 days of participating; the athlete is currently asymptomatic; and the athlete has completed the isolation period as specified in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
ASAA would also require masks or face coverings for all athletes, players, coaches, officials, spectators, and anyone else at indoor events. Masks may be removed when actively participating or officiating. Participants should try to maintain six foot physical distancing when not on the mat or court and masks must be worn on the bench or sidelines.
“We can address some of the mitigations by crowd control, pre-competition testing, mask requirements and host safe events,” Strickland said. “I also thing people need to recognize that not having activities really can create an unsafe event for kids as well.”
Above - This file photo shows JDHS seniors Gabi Kito, Mia Ruffin and Sarah Mertz help sophomore Andyn Mulgrew-Truitt out of the pool after winning the 200 Yard Medley Relay at the 2016 ASAA State Swim/Dive on Championships at the Dimond Park Aquatic Center. (Klas Stolpe)
Above - This file photos shows TMHS' Kenny Fox winning the 2013 state championship in the 100 fly title at the Dimond Park Aquatic Center. Fox swam a 51.00. Below - The JDHS Crimson Bears girls swim team pose with their 2013 state championship trophy at the Dimond Park Aquatic Center. (Klas Stolpe)