MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Columbia High School parents are abuzz on social media with reports of high school students potentially testing positive for COVID-19 after attending parties with each other while unmasked.
In response, the practices of Ultimate Frisbee have been canceled for the next two weeks.
While Anide Eustache, South Orange Maplewood School District Director of Communications, said by email that “No team practices or district-led fall sports teams have been suspended at all,” Ultimate is a CHS club which plays intramurally, with several teams for boys and girls, and is run by its own non-profit board of directors. Two emails were sent to parents to address the situation; a team parent forwarded them to TAPinto SOMA:
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.
Our coaches and the CHS Ultimate Board of Directors will continue to monitor this situation and communicate any further developments as we become aware of them and/or any further decisions regarding the fall program.
Hello again parents and players,
We wanted to update you on the situation as it pertains to our program (original message below). This is what we have learned since I last communicated:
- A player in *******'s pod was at one of the parties in question and has since received a Covid test. Results of that test will be shared once they are available.
- A player in ********'s pod was also at the party in question and has tested positive for Covid-19. It is hard to say with certainity [sic], but the family's assumption is that it was contracted at the party on Friday and that the player has not attended practice while infected.
- To our knowledge, no other pods have known contact with anyone who has tested positive or is suspected to have Covid.
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.
Finally, please join us in wishing the effected [sic] player a speedy recovery.
Sean (on behalf of the CHS Ultimate Program)
TAPinto SOMA has also obtained an email from CHS Principal Frank Sanchez to at least one coach of a school sports team. The first situation mentioned seems to be separate from the Ultimate team.
"So far, we have had two students who disclosed to us that their parents tested positive, but they themselves have not tested positive," said Sanchez in the email. "This means the students have been near a 'close contact' which requires quarantining for 14 days, starting on that day. The first student is on team [sic] -- in fact, it was his advisor who told us -- and we followed our protocols from there. Even though the student tested negative, we did not take chances and are requiring the 14 day period before his return. The second student is not on a sport. (Incidentally, if we had a positive player, we would have to notify the team we played prior to the positive test, but again, this has not been the case here.)"
Sanchez also addressed the party rumors. “There is also 'talk' in town that a student who attended a party last week with others including some of our players is COVID-positive, and I appreciate the coaches who have reached out to Ken and me about the alleged positive case. I did call our Maplewood health official, and I was happy that she picked up the phone on a Sunday. She checked the database, and she reported that there has not been a positive case from the student or from her family. Therefore, we are handling this case as a "suspected positive case" and telling athletes who attended the specific party to self-quarantine for 14 days (unless they get a negative test or when we hear officially from the town of a positive case).”
The principal was also concerned about student privacy. “As you can imagine, we have to balance student privacy rights while still making sure our community is safe. Therefore, we will move forward on alleged cases, but we will be sensitive to students who have allegedly tested positive. We don't want to stigmatize them, but we want to make sure everyone stays healthy!”
The parties were also mentioned in a joint statement from Maplewood Public Health Officer Candace Davenport and Mayor Frank McGehee issued this evening, warning residents to remain vigilant about coronavirus.
“You may have heard about the emergence of indoor parties that some of our teens have attended recently. And hey, we get it. We were teenagers once too and attended our fair share of parties,” said the statement. “But today we are in a global pandemic and we know that coronavirus can spread most in areas where social gatherings occur.”
The statement added that “while we will not respond to rumors or speculation surrounding these specific recent events, please know that Maplewood's Health Division along with the Village of South Orange will work collectively with the South Orange Maplewood School District to address any activity that may result in an uptick in COVID cases across our community.
Davenport and McGehee ended their missive with a plea: “Collectively, we must change the way that we are behaving or more Maplewood residents will get sick, very sick or worse.
“The request is simple: support our community, your neighbors, friends, classmates and local businesses. Wear a mask and maintain social distancing so we can all be safe during these unprecedented times.”
TAPinto SOMA will update this story as the situation evolves.
TAPinto SOMA is a free online newspaper serving the Townships of Maplewood and South Orange Village with no paywall. TAPinto SOMA is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.