Pierre’s T.F. Riggs High School has canceled classes for Friday, and homecoming and fine arts events have been pushed to a later date after dozens of students were placed in quarantine this week due to the coronavirus pandemic, superintendent Kelly Glodt said.
Glodt made the announcement Thursday afternoon, adding that Monday the district had roughly five positive cases of COVID-19 among students at its high school and that by Thursday those cases were estimated at 15, while at least 150 others were asked to quarantine for 14 days.
The high school has roughly 850 students this year.
There are no cases at any of the district’s other schools, and no cases among staff so far, Glodt said. The Pierre School District is the largest in the state to make such a move to help mitigate the spread of the virus since classes returned this fall.
School officials sent an alert to parents via email Thursday morning, stating the rates of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 has “greatly increased over the past few days.”
“The number of our students who are having to quarantine due to being identified as a close contact is in the hundreds and continuing to escalate,” the email stated.
The district’s school board will be hosting an emergency meeting at 12:30 p.m. Friday to figure out next steps and further mitigation efforts, Glodt said.
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The district is following the state health department’s guidelines of having close contacts quarantine if they’ve been within 6 feet for 15 minutes. The district’s addressing the issue as quickly as it can, he said.
“We know there will be people who think we’re overly cautious, people who think we haven’t done enough,” Glodt said. “But we’re trying to make the best decisions with the information we had and the cases just kind of sprung on us pretty quick here.”
State epidemiologist Josh Clayton told reporters Thursday though that the state hadn’t identified any coronavirus clusters in Pierre or Hughes County outside of the women’s prison, which also saw a spike in cases this week.
“The biggest concern we have is obviously for the safety of our staff and students,” Glodt said. “That’s part of why we postponed some of the activities, too, not only ours but at other schools. We don’t want to go some place if we have any kids who are sick.”
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Close contacts were the primary reason behind Pierre’s decision to suspend its football, soccer and volleyball seasons until Monday, athletic director Brian Moser confirmed Wednesday night, adding that the district had seen a “massive spike” in confirmed cases this week.
“It’s not any one sport or one group of people (that’s caused the spike in cases),” Moser said. “We’re a small community, a small school. We’d been doing really good. It’s just one of those things that came out of nowhere.”
The news impacts seven sporting events, including Friday night’s football game between the No. 3 Class 11AA Governors and No. 1 Class 11A Tea Area. Moser said they hope to reschedule that game for a later date.
Additionally, Pierre’s soccer doubleheader Thursday at Roosevelt has been postponed, as have their volleyball matches scheduled for Friday (vs. Yankton) and Saturday (vs. Douglas). The golf team will not travel to Mitchell on Friday, and the cheer and dance team will not travel to Brookings on Saturday.
The Governors suspended football, volleyball and soccer practices late Wednesday afternoon, according to Moser, who said they will re-evaluate the situation on Monday.
“We just have to keep evaluating the numbers, see where we’re at and we’ll make those decisions,” he continued. “We’re just taking (the rest of the week off and hopefully as a community we’ll start over on Monday.”
Football coach Steve Steele estimated that over a third of his team (at least) would have missed Friday’s game with contact tracing still being conducted within the school.
“On our team, we only had a couple actual cases,” he said. “The vast majority were close contacts… We’ll probably get a few more (close contacts) on Thursday, but even with what we have, there was no way (we could play.”
With respect to rescheduling the postponed contests, Moser said they are working with all four schools — Tea Area, Roosevelt, Yankton and Douglas — to find dates that will work and is “very confident” that the games will be made up.
“I appreciate the schools understanding and knowing that all of us at Pierre want to play the games and we’re going to play the games,” Moser later added. “I think that’s important for the kids (to play the games), but we can do it at a time that’s safe for everybody… We’re going to get there.”
This is the second 11-man football game to be canceled since the season began. Winner’s game at Valentine (Neb.) was called off earlier this week due to a positive case in Valentine.