After a whirlwind week full of assessment, consultation and decision making, the Hays Larks are moving ahead with plans to play baseball this summer.
The Larks learned last Sunday that one of their players tested positive for COVID-19. On Monday, it was announced that all players and coaches would be tested, and that the Larks would start the season this weekend if those tests were all negative.
The team received another scare when a test result came back positive for a player this week, but it was determined not to be an active case.
"We didn’t have any positive cases as it turned out," Larks manager Frank Leo said. "... A player could have had COVID a long time ago, up to 60 days ago. They’re no longer contagious because they’re past the 14-day period, (but) they could still come out with a positive (test)."
In consultation with the Ellis County Health Department, the Larks decided to move forward. They were set to play a season-opening doubleheader against the Colorado Pirates on Saturday night at Larks Park.
Ellis County Health Services director Jason Kennedy said he couldn’t speak specifically about the testing results of the Larks, citing federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules.
But speaking in general terms, Kennedy said that while the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test is effective in detecting the COVID-19 virus, a positive test result doesn’t mean that the virus is still active in an individual.
"It is not a good test at telling whether someone is contagious, whether someone could actually infect others," Kennedy said. "It doesn’t tell us how much viral material the individual actually has, and it also doesn’t tell whether that virus is inactive or active — meaning whether it can actually spread to someone else and infect them."
Kennedy said that if a person "is done or on the backside of the viral infection, the virus at that point is inactive. Your body still sheds it. You’re getting rid of the virus out of your body, but it can’t infect anybody else.
"You could conceivably test positive, but not actually be contagious," he said. "What I mean is, you would not be able to infect anyone else around you, even though you test positive on a PCR test."
Leo said the Larks spent a lot of time this week planning their next steps. They have been advised by Kennedy throughout the process.
"We’ve had a lot of work done by (Kennedy), talking to the state (health) department and the COVID team at the hospital and just checking everything out," Leo said. "We’re good to go, and our players are excited about that.
"There are some protocols we have to follow as to protect our players, and we’re going to do those things because right now our concern is the safety of our players."
Leo said those protocols include temperature taking and having the players fill out a COVID-19 questionnaire asking if they have any symptoms. Any player that has a temperature of 100.4 or higher will be asked to isolate from the team.
"We’re telling them to be aware of the COVID signs, or anything," Leo said. "It may not be COVID, but if you’re not feeling good, stay home."
Other precautions include the Larks not having bat boys or holding baseball card signings. Kids will not be allowed on the field after the game.
The Larks also will not have players go up into the stands to sell raffle tickets like they have in the past. Instead, the raffles will be sold at a table.
"The health department has been in constant contact with the Larks," Kennedy said. "We have worked with them to come up with a really good plan that they put forth to make sure we create a healthy and safe environment, for not only the team members, but also the patrons as we all move forward with COVID-19."
The Larks were previously scheduled to open the season against the Pirates on Friday, but that game was set to be played as part of Saturday’s doubleheader. The finale of the weekend series is set for Sunday at 7 p.m. at Larks Park.
The Larks, entering their first season in the Rocky Mountain Baseball League, are also scheduled to play every day but Wednesday next week with three series against the GameDay Saints, Denver Cougars and Colorado Springs Outlaws.
Leo said the team met together and practiced Friday for the first time since learning a player tested positive last Sunday.
"These guys were told to quarantine, sit at home, wait until we get to the bottom of this thing," Leo said. "They were anxious to be out and do some things. We still got to be cautious; that’s the bottom line. We want the season, in its entirety, to happen, so we still got to be cautious."
As of Saturday afternoon, Ellis County had three active cases of COVID-19, according to the county health department.
"As we go forward here in the community, we will see more cases of COVID-19," Kennedy said. "We hope to keep hospitalizations at a minimum or at zero; we hope to keep the deaths low. Those are the goals with this. We hope to mitigate the risk to the general community with spread."
Moving forward, Kennedy said each person in the community needs to use their own personal risk assessment when deciding to attend events and activities.
"We have to decide, what is the risk I’m willing to accept to partake in that event or that activity?" Kennedy said. "You have to use that information to guide your decisions as we move forward with COVID-19 in the community."
Leo shares that sentiment in regard to fans attending games at Larks Park.
"I want our fans to come to the ballpark, but if they have a fever and they don’t feel right, please don’t come," Leo said. "We will have sanitation stations across the ballpark. If people don’t feel comfortable, go ahead and social distance."
HDN reporter Margaret Allen contributed to this report.