Polk County public schools temporarily suspending athletic programs due to pandemic

Polk County Public Schools announced Tuesday it would temporarily suspend all athletic programs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Effective immediately, all practices and competitions are canceled until Jan. 4, 2021, the county said, after more than 50 student-athletes participating in winter sports tested positive in recent weeks.

“We felt it was in the best interest in trying to do our part to protect our students and the community.” said Dan Talbot, Director of Athletics for Polk County Schools. “It seemed like the right time because there are only a few tournaments and games that the students will miss out on.”

Talbot said none of the games will be forfeited.

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According to the Florida Department of Health in Polk County, there are cases among cheerleaders, basketball and soccer players, wrestlers and weight lifters.

“It’s important to remember that our schools are a reflection of what’s happening in the community," said Scott Sjoblom, COVID response section chief with the Department of Health. "Case counts are rising throughout our county. This is a time to be extra vigilant. Suspending athletics is one more measure we can take to protect one another from this virus.”

The district has been monitoring the increasing number of cases, but a recent event ended up being the deciding factor. Talbot said a major wrestling competition led to a number of positive COVID-19 tests.

“A few days after, we started getting symptoms. Basically from that one event that involved nine wrestling teams, every school but one ended up with a positive case,” said Talbot. “We had nine positive cases from one event.”

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Several of the cases were in students from outside Polk County, which meant that they took the virus home to their areas.

At the beginning of the school year, the school district implemented precautions in its athletics programs, including limiting attendance at competitions to allow for social distancing and requiring spectators to wear face coverings. Student-athletes and coaches were also required to wear masks and practice social distancing as much as possible during practices and competitions.

“We will monitor the number of cases in our community throughout the winter break and will keep our community updated,” Talbot said. “We plan to restart our athletics programs on Jan. 4. We are pausing athletics to do our part in slowing the spread.”