JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A last-minute change to the USA Track and Field Junior Olympics means thousands of young athletes will have to get tested each day before they can compete.
Hundreds of athletes were seen in line Tuesday morning at the University of North Florida, where the competition takes place. Thousands of athletes ranging in age from 7 to 18 are registered for the event, which runs until Sunday.
“Having to get tested every day is very worth it because there’s a lot of people that are going to be watching you,” said Ra’Kia Williams, an athlete.
“It wasn’t too bad,” said athlete Samantha Baines. “It hurt a little bit to get that thing up your nose.”
“The test did not hurt that much and it did not feel like that long waiting,” said Elizabeth Cafarelli, an athlete.
The Gainesville Striders said it was the price to pay to compete in a pandemic, but some parents aren’t happy with the way it’s done.
“The process is just a nightmare,” said Tosha Woolforde, a parent. “This is the worst run track meet I’ve ever been to in my life, and we’ve been doing track for a long time.”
USA Track and Field leaders made the call Monday, citing Florida’s COVID-19 positivity rate of 15%, and Duval County’s rate of nearly 26%. In a statement (in full at end of article) writing in part:
“...based on the high local COVID-19 positivity rate and the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, it is important that all meet participants carefully follow protocols designed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
The tests are mandatory each day before an athlete competes. Once they’re tested, they get a wristband to show they’re negative.
Lisa Ball, a mother, said it took her son and nieces more than two hours. Not fun, but worth it.
“It’s a blessing just to be able to see our kids because we’ve been held down for about a year now,” Ball said.
The organizer said it’s paying for the daily rapid tests, so beyond registration, student-athletes don’t have to pay any more money.
Here’s the full statement from USATF:
“Please be advised, the State of Florida has just released a new COVID-19 Weekly Situation Report for the week of July 16 to July, 22, 2021. Unfortunately, the new case positivity rate for the entire State of Florida has again increased to 15.1% (up from 11.7% the week prior). The new case positivity rate for Duvall County (Jacksonville) has also increased to 25.7% (up from 21.9% the week prior).
“USA Track & Field (USATF) takes athlete and participant safety very seriously. As a result, USATF will continue following the recommendation of its COVID-19 Working Group and will now require on-site, upon arrival, testing for all competitors (and anyone else accompanying said competitors through packet pick-up), independent of vaccination status. These tests will be rapid COVID-19 PCR tests and will be provided at no cost.
“Additionally, based on the high local COVID-19 positivity rate and the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, it is important that all meet participants carefully follow protocols designed to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This includes physical distancing, mask wearing in indoor spaces and in crowded outdoor spaces, and frequent hand washing. Your cooperation is appreciated in doing your part to assist USATF in its efforts to secure the safety and well-being of all USATF athletes.”