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Student-athlete COVID testing proves challenging for Denver-area district

Student athletes in Jeffco are required to either be vaccinated, or get tested for COVID once a week.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — The goal is to keep students in class and safe from the virus. But in reality, testing students for COVID at Colorado schools is proving challenging. The state is finding it difficult to get schools and kids to sign up for the testing, while other districts say it’s been hard to get their programs started.

"It’s been challenging," Patrick Simpson, Executive Director of Athletics and Activities at Jeffco Public Schools, said. "That’s the word we keep using around here, is 'challenging.'"

When a football team at Jeffco Public Schools hits the field this season, every player is required to be vaccinated or get tested for COVID once a week.

The hard part for Simpson has been building a system that can comply with the Jefferson County Public Health order.

The order from the county health department requires all unvaccinated students, coaches and sponsors participating in sports or clubs to be tested for COVID regularly. Now, the athletic director and his team are finding themselves working to build a testing program from the ground up.

"Over the first few weeks, it’s really been our school sites really running around trying to track hard copies of rosters and really working through logistics," Simpson said. 

The district is working with the state health department and outside vendors to provide testing at 18 high schools for the more than 2,000 unvaccinated students who want to participate in extracurricular sports and clubs this semester. The public health order requires the school district to keep track of who’s been tested and who hasn’t so they can determine who can participate. The problem is the district doesn’t have a system to do that, and has had to build it quickly since the health order went into effect in early September.

"We had just a little over two weeks to try to figure this out," Simpson said. "We're working with outside vendors who are also working through building the plane as they fly. It has just created residual challenges for all of us."

The job to track COVID tests in Jefferson County has fallen on athletic directors. They’ve had to go around classroom-to-classroom and tell kids they have to get tested or they won’t be able to play in the game or participate in their club. Jeffco Schools said a small number of students and families have chosen to not be tested and not participate in clubs and sports this year.

While testing is required for unvaccinated students in Jefferson County, the state is using $173 million of federal funding to run a voluntary COVID testing program in schools. A month after it started, only 6,278 students have filed the paperwork to participate. Out of the more than 883,000 students in the state, that’s less than 1% of all students.

RELATED: Masks required inside JeffCo government buildings; testing requirement to be considered

RELATED: Colorado schools change approach to combating COVID

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