McALLEN — A pair of McAllen ISD student-athletes have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the school district. McAllen ISD Superintendent J.A. Gonzalez and board member Conrado “Ito” Alvardo confirmed the news to The Monitor.

According to district officials, one McAllen Memorial football player and one at McAllen High, whose names were not disclosed due to HIPAA privacy protections, tested positive for the novel coronavirus at the beginning of the week with swab-based antigen tests, which identifies active infections.

COVID-19 antigen tests, however, are considered less reliable than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus tests, which test for COVID-19’s genetic material, but more reliable than antibody tests, which test for the presence of a past infection of the virus.

“We have to be transparent and put that number out there,” Alvarado said. “We’re trying to educate our coaches and student-athletes that we need to go take PCR tests because that’s the most accurate. You might have to quarantine for 24-48 hours, but all the other tests are not as accurate which can lead to some false positives.”

“McAllen ISD has always prided itself on keeping the channels of communication open with our families, and we’re doing the very same thing during this COVID-19 environment,” Gonzalez said.

The Monitor has previously reported on shipments of COVID-19 tests in Laredo and McAllen that were providing inaccurate results during the summer.

McAllen Rowe has reported no positive COVID-19 tests among faculty or student-athletes. Representatives from McHi and Memorial added that no on-campus faculty members or coaches have tested positive either.

Cross country, football, golf, team tennis and volleyball practices began at McHi, Memorial and Rowe on Sept. 29, one day after McAllen ISD approved the return of fall sports practices and its athletics-based COVID-19 mitigation plan. A few dozen students who lack reliable internet access at home have also returned to campuses for limited in-person proctored instruction.

McAllen Memorial principal Pedro Alvarez Jr. and McHi principal Albert Canales wrote letters to parents on Wednesday evening addressing the situation. The letter did not specify the sport in which the student-athlete in question participated, but multiple school district sources indicated it was a pair of football players.

“Our school will remain open during this time. It has been deeply sanitized as per Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to ensure an extra level of safety. Appropriate measures are being taken by the school and the district to ensure the health and well-being of students and employees,” Canales wrote. “We understand that this news can be unsettling and cause for concern. Please remember that the best plan for addressing the COVID-19 virus is to remain informed. We will continue to ensure safe practices with all employees and students.”

McAllen ISD officials said the student-athletes who tested positive were asked to self-quarantine at home while district officials conducted contact tracing exercises.

Both student-athletes in question have recovered and displayed no symptoms as of Thursday afternoon, while district officials said that practices, scrimmages and contests for fall sports programs at McHi, Memorial and Rowe will continue as scheduled for the time being.

“We’ll have some students test positive, but it’s about stopping (the spread),” Alvarado said. “As long as they’re not requiring hospitalizations, it’s mild and the kids are recovering quickly, I think that’s where we as parents understand.”

The two student-athletes who tested positive for COVID-19 represent less than 1% of all student-athletes and McAllen ISD coaches who have returned to campus, which is why the district is asking for the community’s help in being vigilant and safe away from campuses and practices to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We’re going to be transparent. Now we need families to be transparent and work with one another so if there’s anything that we need to know that’s going on in the household or potential exposures,” Gonzalez said. “We’re hoping we can work together because as soon as we see positive cases in our system, we’re sending that information out to the parents to let them know and we also have a COVID task force at the central staff level and on every campus.”

“If we’re being transparent and the kids aren’t getting too sick, then let’s (try to) continue,” Alvarado said. “We’re being transparent and giving (the community) the numbers. We’re not hiding anything.”


Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch