MDH asking students to get frequent COVID-19 tests as they return to school, practice

As some schools across Minnesota allow students back into the classroom and student-athletes return to practice and competition, the Minnesota Department of Health is asking families to get their children tested for COVID-19 frequently to help stop the spread.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS went to North High School to learn how its basketball team is trying to stop the spread and play safely.

The North Polars are hoping COVID-19 doesn’t cut their basketball season short again.

"The heaviness of despair in that space was palatable," North High Principal Mauri Friestleben said.

Now, they’re back on the court.

"We want to make sure they are safe, but we also want to make sure they are not spreading the disease to those who may be more vulnerable," MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff said.

"I went through a process of questioning whether or not I would even be able to coach this season because of health reasons," Larry McKenzie, North High’s basketball coach, said.

The players are grouped into pods to help with social distancing.

Full KSTP COVID-19 coverage

During practice, they want to keep everything clean. Every 10-15 minutes, coaches have the athletes go out, grab some water, and then they wipe everything down.

The team is also masking up.

"Playing with a mask on is, you know, it’s a little different. Running up and down the court with a mask on, you have moments where you try to sometimes fight for air," Davon Townley, one of the team’s players, said.

But, the Polars say it’s all worth it for the chance to win.

"Having a team is important because it’s like having a second family, waking up coming to school seeing your family and your friends, it kind of makes you feel good," Townley said.

To help ensure they can continue playing, MDH is pushing for continued testing.

"Young adults, they’re more likely to be asymptomatic," Huff said.

MDH and the coaches are urging student-athletes to get tested every couple of weeks.

"In order to keep sports happening … this is a really important strategy," Huff added.

At district headquarters on Saturday, there’s going to be testing, and the assistant coach said he hopes all the athletes get tested again at that time.