How one high school football game led 62 players and coaches to quarantine

Adam Lichtenstein, South Florida Sun Sentinel

A high school football game on a wet Halloween night is the center of a COVID-19 outbreak in Palm Beach County. To date, 20 players and coaches on one team have tested positive and over 60 people have been quarantined.

The county’s contact tracers put the pieces together days after the Oct. 31 game between Palm Beach Central High School and Glades Central Community High School, according to Alex Shaw, a spokesman for the county department of health.

The drastic spread of the virus through the team within the span of only two weeks highlights how quickly COVID-19 can infect large swaths of people — especially when its symptoms are often undetectable.

After Palm Beach Central lost in a 41-0 blowout, two people associated with the team tested positive for COVID-19 the following day on Nov. 1, according to Shaw.

Within two weeks, the number of positive cases jumped to 20, including 16 football players at Palm Beach Central and four coaches.

Five of the players who later became infected did so while they were in quarantine, Shaw said. In total, 62 football players and coaches have been quarantined since the game.

A spokeswoman for Palm Beach County Schools said on Tuesday that 14 of the 20 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have since been cleared.

The Oct. 31 game took place at Wellington Community High School, a neutral ground for both teams.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Palm Beach County School District shortened the football season from its typical 10 games to four, played at three sites around the county chosen because of their turf fields.

Before halftime the game was delayed for nearly two hours due to weather conditions.

It was during this time that both teams spent a “prolonged” period of time on a school bus, according to Shaw, which is likely where the spread of the virus happened.

Shaw said that a lack of wearing masks during this time, which contact tracers learned about in their interviews, also may have contributed to the spread.

However, Palm Beach Central football coach Scottie Littles, in his second year as the Broncos' coach, said his team followed the proper protocols.

“We followed School District policy for weather delays,” Littles said, without elaborating.

A school district spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment specifying what district policies are place in the event of a weather delay.

Due to the outbreak, the rest of the Broncos' games have been canceled until after Thanksgiving, Shaw said. He added that the outbreak is a reminder of the importance of following COVID-19 guidelines.

“The need to maintain strict COVID preventative guidelines for the sake of the players, coaches, schoolmates, school staff, and family members cannot be underscored,” he said.

Littles had no comment when asked how the team had reacted to the Broncos' regular season being suspended.

The 41-0 loss to Glades Central was the only game the team has played all season.

A tri-county playoff tournament, including public-school teams from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, is scheduled to begin the week of Nov. 30, and the Broncos may still be eligible to play in the tournament.

Palm Beach Central is not the only football team in the county to navigate through COVID-19 issues this season.

Days before their Halloween game, another scheduled game between William T. Dwyer High School in Palm Beach Gardens and Forest Hill Community High School in West Palm Beach was canceled after a member of the football team tested positive for COVID-19.

In Broward County, four football games have been canceled this season due to players or coaches testing positive for the virus. Other high schools in the county have canceled cheer leading practices and junior varsity football practices due to students testing positive for COVID-19.

As of Tuesday evening, there have been 623 confirmed cases of COVID-19 within Palm Beach County Schools, according to their online dashboard. That number includes 349 students and 274 staff members.

Broward County Schools have reported 505 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since schools reopened last month. That number includes 252 students and 253 staff members.

Andrew Boryga can be reached at 954-356-4533 or aboryga@sunsentinel.com. Follow on Twitter @borywrites.

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