State releases rapid testing guidelines for teen athletes

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Young athletes who test positive after a weekly rapid coronavirus test beginning April 2 cannot return to practice or play on a team during the duration of their infection until they get a negative test, according to state guidelines issued Saturday.

Youth athletes who play contact sports but can't wear face masks because the face mask could get caught on objects, impair vision or become a choking hazard, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, must test for the coronavirus before an unmasked activity up to three times weekly.

New guidelines require rapid COVID-19 testing of all youth athletes 13 and older beginning April 2.

Young athletes also should be tested before they compete with another team.

The protocols are among the testing guidelines outlined by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which last week issued a mandate for rapid coronavirus testing for all youth athletes ages 13-19 beginning April 2.

It was not clear who would pay for the rapid tests, which will be given to athletes participating in contact and non-contact sports, regardless of the organizer. Contact sports include football, basketball, rugby, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling, hockey, boxing, futsal and martial arts with opponents.

Outbreaks have totaled 135 among minors participating in school and club sports in the state as of March 11, according to the state's eight-page Interim Guidance for Athletics. Additionally, there has been a 105% increase in the spread of the virus during last four weeks among residents age 10-19. 

"To promote the continued safe operation of in-person schools, additional mitigation measures related to youth sports activities are warranted," the guidelines said. "Sports requiring frequent and close interaction between players make prevention of virus transmission much more difficult compared to sports where players are not as close to each other.

"The risk of virus transmission is increased by the number of individuals a player physically interacts with, as well as the intensity and duration of that interaction."

With spring sports practices beginning Monday, the testing mandates have not been met with much pushback, said Justin Hunter, Michigan Rush Downriver Soccer Club coach. 

"A lot of parents are very understanding that this is a safety precaution, especially for the kids," said Hunter, an Allen Park resident coaching 9-, 10-,13- and 14-year-old boys, some of whom are asthmatic, at the Trenton-based soccer club.

"You’re obviously nervous for the first go-around of testing, because one positive and things aren’t looking so good," said Hunter. "But throughout the season, we haven’t had very many scares, even. We haven’t been shut down. Things have been going, I don’t want to say smoothly, but definitely better than expected."

Detroit News freelancer Nolan Bianchi contributed.