BISD student-athlete tests positive for COVID-19

San Benito, Rio Hondo, McAllen suspend programs; Harlingen athletes still practicing

Brownsville Veterans Memorial players listen to instructions from coaches Monday at Charger Stadium during the first day of group workouts permitted by the University Interscholastic League. Courtesy Photo / David Cantu

The Brownsville Independent School District confirmed Tuesday in a statement that a student-athlete tested positive for COVID-19, coming after the district decided Monday to postpone its summer strength and conditioning programs, which began June 8 with the approval of the University Interscholastic League.

BISD said it plans to reinstate the program July 13, and that students “will not be allowed on campus until further notice.”

The statement followed a letter from the district’s athletic director, Gilbert Leal, informing students and parents of BISD’s decision to suspend the program.

Leal said the student was tested Sunday and, on Monday morning, that student-athlete and other students who were in the workout group together were told not to report to the strength and conditioning camp that day.

“It’s just not something that, with Brownsville being so big and with the number of students that we’re servicing, that this is going to be a pattern that we’re not going to be able to battle,” Leal said. “(The coronavirus) is so widespread in our community that we didn’t want athletics or the school district to be the reason that this is happening.”

A notable aspect of BISD’s approach that differed from some Rio Grande Valley schools was the option to remain outdoors as a precaution beyond the UIL’s recommended reopening of weight rooms or gymnasiums at 25 percent (which was later amended by the UIL to open to 50 percent beginning June 22.)

“This is not something that’s independent for us, it’s happening all over the state of Texas right now,” Leal said. “You’ve seen school districts that are taking the safe way out. … The risk is not worth the reward right now.”

The BISD AD said he has spoken with athletic directors from across the state, including the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

During a Zoom meeting with coaches from around the state Monday, Leal said the shift in tone was a marked difference from the prior week.

“Leading up to June 8, there were a lot of athletic directors in the state of Texas that were extremely excited and positive,” Leal said. “And you could just tell in (Monday’s videoconference) that it was just a really somber meeting, all around.”

McAllen ISD, PSJA ISD, Sharyland ISD, Odessa High and Arlington Martin also announced Tuesday that their strength and conditioning programs were coming to a halt.

Leal recommended that student-athletes stay in close contact with their coaches while continuing to practice social distancing at all times.

“Just by stepping on to our campuses shows what type of character you are already,” Leal wrote. “Continue waking up every day with a plan to improve yourself daily.”

Due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, Leal said there were several ideas and proposals made to try to safely operate the summer athletics programs. While he hadn’t yet spoken with UIL officials individually regarding the organization’s adjustments, Leal expects the organization to issue an update modifying its current standards for summer workouts “within the next week or so.”

“As coaches (the first week of workouts) was our first dry run,” Leal said. “There’s no data to go off of as far as best practices.”

BISD followed UIL guidelines to establish its check-in and on-field workout protocols, including requiring masks to be worn by students during check-in, using a set of five questions to assess them for symptoms and determine whether or not a student may have been near a family member or someone else who was at-risk or may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

“The bottom line is, we can do everything perfectly for four hours, and once they go home there’s no way to track what they’re doing once they leave our campus,” Leal said.

San Benito athletic director Dan Gomez wrote a letter to parents and students informing them that a student tested positive for the coronavirus Monday. The Greyhounds have postponed their programs and asked those who may have been in contact with the student who contracted the virus to self-isolate for 14 days.

Rio Hondo held workouts Tuesday and later announced it would also postpone its program until further notice. Weslaco ISD confirmed two of its students had tested positive for the virus and called off its workouts. Harlingen High and Harlingen South held workouts Tuesday at their respective campuses.

As of early Tuesday afternoon, Los Fresnos athletic director Patrick Brown said LFCISD is continuing with its strength and conditioning program, but noted that those plans are subject to change.

Point Isabel ISD announced June 7 it would be suspending its strength and conditioning programs indefinitely.