Memphis private school goes virtual, suspends athletics after 12 test positive for COVID-19

Memphis private school goes virtual, suspends athletics after 12 test positive for COVID-19

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Harding Academy, a private kindergarten through 12th grade school in Memphis, is reporting a dozen cases of coronavirus after its first week of the new school year.

Head of School Trent Williamson confirms the school’s outbreak is isolated to its high school athletic teams. Eleven students and one faculty member tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, Williamson said.

Harding started the new year Aug. 10.

Williamson said nine cases are on the volleyball team, one on the soccer team and one on the football team.

As a result of the outbreak, Williamson said all students in grades nine through 12 have transitioned to virtual learning for the next two weeks. Little Harding, lower school and middle school remain open for in-person learning, but parents in lower and middle school have the option to switch to virtual instruction.

Harding is working with the Shelby County Health Department to ensure all protocols are followed.

Health experts say they expect more schools in the Mid-South to deal with situations similar to this as the school year goes on.

“I’m don’t think this is surprising,” said Dr. Robin Womeodu, chief medical officer at Methodist University Hospital. “Many experts have said they won’t be surprised if there are outbreaks in schools within sports teams.”

Womeodu says it’s difficult to limit the spread of COVID-19 on sports teams.

“Social distancing is very very difficult, you’re with your team, you do team huddles, there’s a lot of talking, a lot of yelling,” said Womeodu.

The Shelby County task force has not recommended fall sports proceed during the pandemic due to the difficulties in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

“Any time we see a large number of young people who are impacted that we know are engaged in the same sport, or have been in close contact, that’s disconcerting to us,” said Alisa Haushalter, director of the Shelby County Health Department.

The task force says local schools should follow the specific and detailed safety guidelines of the TSSAA for each individual sport.

“How do you ensure social distancing? You don’t share water bottles, all those other things that to me are fairly common sense given the basic principles of reducing transmission,” said Haushalter.

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