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SOU announces first two COVID-19 cases

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University athletic department activities were temporarily put on hold after one athlete and a staff member tested positive for COVID-19, according to a press release from the school Tuesday.

The decision to suspend all athletic activities was made Friday after test results came back, according to SOU athletic director Matt Sayre. On-campus activities will resume today.

Sayre noted that one of the positive cases came from SOU doing its first test run of the Cascade Conference’s COVID-19 testing plan. The second positive test, according to Sayre, was one that was not associated with the testing done by SOU and the CCC.

The athlete and staff member who tested positive are now isolated until they are no longer deemed contagious, according to the press release. The school added that contact tracing has resulted in a “small number of other student-athletes and athletic staff members” being placed into a 14-day quarantine.

Those who have been quarantined can return to activities if they test negative after their 14-day quarantine.

“No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff, so it was a good test run in that we had an opportunity to run through those protocols to make sure they align with our safety measures and what we have planned,” Sayre said. “It was good from that regard. It was obviously nerve-wracking as we went through it and trying to make sure everybody was safe and healthy from that end, but overall we felt the process was good.

“We had a debrief today with our health and wellness center, our coaches and our athletic training staff and just have gone through about what went well and what needs work. The process will continue to improve.”

As a whole, SOU sent 63 COVID-19 tests to the Cascade Conference for the first round of testing. With one positive among those 63 tests, it came out to a 1.6% positivity rate.

Conference-wide, 419 tests were conducted, with four positives.

“It starts with our mask wearing and our safety precautions that we do every day and our screening that we do every day with our student-athletes, so going into it we leaned on that,” Sayre said. “That’s a small amount of positive cases amongst the 400-something student-athletes that we’re working out. We’re quarantining, doing some other tests where no other positives showed up, so that’s good.”

Added Sayre: “We have another randomized test that is part of our athletic department protocol. Every week we will test a percentage of our student-athletes in a given program. We’ll pass 25% of student-athletes that were tested already, and then on Tuesday we’ll have another full team do a another round of the saliva direct tests that will be sent to Santiam Hospital (in Stayton, as part of the CCC’s testing protocol).”

The SOU athletic department has been in a holding pattern for the last couple of weeks as it awaits approval from Gov. Kate Brown’s office of a return-to-play plan submitted by the Cascade Conference earlier this month. The CCC’s plan involves testing for all athletes and coaches as well as protocol to follow when it comes to potential cancellations as well as guidelines for travel.

Under COVID-19 restrictions put into place by the governor’s office, a total of five SOU sports teams — football, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s wresting — are unable to hold regular practices because they are under full-contact classification.

The SOU men’s basketball team is scheduled to open its season on Nov. 24 against rival Oregon Tech at Lithia Motors Pavilion in Ashland, with a second game between the two schools set for Klamath Falls four days later.

Other sports, like volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer, have been practicing since late September, albeit with restrictions and mandatory mask rules.

The SOU men’s and women’s basketball teams are scheduled to begin Cascade Conference play the first weekend of December.

Reach Danny Penza at 541-441-7769 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

The Southern Oregon University athletic department announced that a student-athlete and a staff member have tested positive for COVID-19, causing a temporary shutdown of team activities. (Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune)