Athletes, coaches react to Omicron threat to sports

Avi Srinivasan and Leena Hussein

The Viking Boys’ Basketball team plays at one of its first home games of the season late last semester against Overfelt High School. As a result of the surge of Omicron cases starting this semester, athletes and coaches are now required  to follow increased precautions, such as weekly Covid testing, to slow the transmission of the virus. According to junior point guard Noah Chen, the athletic community must continue to be careful. “Hopefully if we take the right precautions the season can finish without interruption as planned,” Chen said. “But it’s unclear if that’ll be the case.” (Photo: Jonathan Chen)

With the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant on the rise, Palo Alto High School’s athletic department and student-athletes are responding to multiple challenges, including the possibility of a shortened season. 

In an email to the athletic community on Thursday, Athletic Director Nelson Gifford stated that athletes are now required to get a COVID-19 test every five days.

Athletes and coaches who test positive are now required to follow Center of Disease Control regulations, which involve a five-day minimum self-isolation until proof of a negative PCR test result and asymptomatic condition.

According to junior Josh Wilde, a member of the varsity wrestling team, precautions have significantly increased following the Omicron surge.

“Last month, in December, people were without masks and it was pretty laid back as there weren’t many regulations,” Wilde said. “But recently, at a tournament, you had to have your mask on if you weren’t wrestling or you would get kicked out. So there’s definitely been more regulations going on right now.”

Along with wrestling, several sports have been already affected with season games being cancelled due to exposure with COVID, Wilde said.

“I know some of the bigger tournaments that other teammates were going to go to have gotten canceled,” Wilde said. “So it has been tough for a lot of people.”

According to Varsity Soccer player Zach Cooper, Boys’ Soccer is currently shut down after the team’s head coach tested positive as well as one of the captains on the team.

“Our coach gets his [COVID-19] test back tomorrow to see if we can resume [practice], and everyone on the team got tested,” Cooper said.

Additionally, other winter sports teams such as Boys’ Basketball and Girls’ Soccer are facing players shortages both due to positive cases and fear of contracting COVID-19.

“Recently four people tested positive,” junior boys’ basketball player Noah Chen said. “We’ve had to cancel and reschedule two games.”

Girls’ Basketball team head coach Scott Peters said people have become more relaxed about following COVID protocols, which may be a factor in the recent rise in cases. 

“People are tired of it [the pandemic],” Peters said. “They drop their guards and you can watch at your school, even outdoors, people are taking their mask off to talk to each other in close proximity.”

Peters said that he hopes the Girls’ basketball team is able to finish out their season despite the ongoing spread. 

I think there’s going to be some disruption,” Peters said. “Hopefully it gets better but I think we have to be open to changing and having some delays so we can just work together to get through this.”

Apart from the threat to student and staff health, some student-athletes worry about what cancellations could mean for their mental health.

“Athletics are such a community builder and if those are taken away, then it’s gonna be hard for a lot of kids who are into athletics to find something else to do after school because some people, when they go home, they feel alone,” junior field hockey player Anna Wingard said.

Although concerns are prevalent, many like Wilde say they have hope for the future.

“I think if it [Omicron] doesn’t stop soon, we might get a few of the big tournaments canceled, but in general, I think practices will still go on,” Wilde said.

Assistant Athletic Director Fatima Giffen expressed a similar sentiment by saying that she believes the situation will improve for other winter sports as well.

“Although it [Omicron] is going to be bad for a few weeks, we’re going to end up with herd immunity,” Giffen said. “My personal opinion is it’s going to get much better because everybody would have been exposed to it. Although  it [the pandemic] is so fluid, I think we just have to go with what happens, but personally I don’t think they’re going to cancel any sports.”

In a message to student families on Jan. 5, Palo Alto Unified School District superintendent Don Austin said although athletics are a challenge as of now, the athletic department is working with principals in order to make it through this month.

Athletic department member and physical education teacher Peter Diepenbrock said many athletes have been preparing and waiting a long time for this winter season.

“I would be incredibly disappointed if we weren’t able to make it through the seasons,” Diepenbrock said. “These kids have been through too much to take away athletics again. I would really hope that they can find a way to make it work.”