Basketball is back in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The Lower Yukon School District and Chevak’s Kashunamiut School District are allowing students back in the gym, and some teams are even traveling out of the region for games.
As of March 8, all schools within the Lower Yukon School District were reopened, although the district is not entirely free of COVID-19. Three of the 10 villages within LYSD have had COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks, but Superintendent Gene Stone said that with the low number of cases, the district decided to reopen schools in those communities as well.
“We felt that through our conversations with the active cases that they were isolated, and that there wasn't, you know, concerns at that point,” Stone said.
LYSD is one of the few districts in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta that currently allows students to play basketball, which goes against the recommendations of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. In a March 3 meeting, the Lower Kuskokwim School District board voted unanimously to not allow sports until cases decline further.
To support his district’s decision, Stone pointed to other school districts in Alaska outside the region that are allowing sports. He said that LYSD has thus far avoided any spread of COVID-19 in its schools by using mitigation plans drafted in the fall. Plus, he said that the district has instituted a new testing program at each of its schools.
“What we're trying to do is make sure that every staff member and student is tested every two weeks,” Stone said. “It's not mandatory, but we haven't had anybody at this point, that I know of, that’s resisted it. I think people want to know that their kids are safe.”
These are antigen tests that LYSD staff members administer. On top of safety mitigations, Stone said that there is a need in the region for sports activities.
“Obviously, basketball is a huge part of kids’ lives, and they love it. And the communities love it,” Stone said.
Stone said that the district is taking precautions, which include closing basketball practices to the general public, administering symptom and temperature checks before practices, and requiring masks on the bench or in a huddle. He said that the district has not mandated masks in games before, but would do so going forward.
The district is also allowing students to travel out of the region for games. On March 2, teams from Scammon Bay and Hooper Bay traveled to Point Hope for a basketball tournament that included teams from Glenallen. Activities Coordinator Byron Ulak wrote in a report that the Scammon Bay teams were diverted to Nome on their way home due to weather. Ulak wrote that while in Nome, the Scammon Bay boys team played a game against Unalakleet.
Stone said that while traveling, players are staying in their rooms and not mingling with other students outside of the games. He also said that they’re taking steps to reduce the risk of infecting others when they return.
“When the kids return, they return as a cohort so they're, they're not out in the regular school population. Then after seven days, if they test negative, then they're fine to return to the regular student activities,” Stone said.
Stone said that the district is not participating in wrestling because that sport is riskier since it involves athletes continually in close contact with one another.
On March 12, games are scheduled between Hooper Bay and Chevak, while Scammon Bay will play Unalakleet on March 13.