By Dan Guttenplan
---- — As it stands now, local athletes will not be asked to vacate school property by 5 p.m. during this season due to town curfews.
None of the local towns’ health departments had imposed a curfew, as of last evening, due to the detection of the Eastern equine encephalitis virus last week near the Amesbury/Merrimac town line.
Last August, after the virus was detected in Georgetown, all local towns imposed the 5 p.m. curfew, forcing local athletic directors to reschedule weekday games from 3:45 to 3 p.m. Friday night football was also wiped from the schedule for much of the fall season until the first frost.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Newburyport athletic director Bob Clarke. “I’m hoping we don’t have a ban, but I’m preparing as if we might. I think there is a health board meeting this week, so we’ll see what happens.”
Amesbury athletic director Glen Gearin remembers having to overhaul much of the fall schedule last year after the detection of the EEE virus during the preseason.
“If changes are required, we draw from the previous experience and rearrange as needed,” Gearin said. “Lately, it has become part of all athletic directors’ pre-planning when it comes to scheduling.”
The EEE virus, which can be fatal, is spread through mosquitoes. After the virus is detected locally, towns typically spray open fields where mosquitoes might reside in hopes of killing the insects.
West Nile virus has also been detected in Amesbury, Merrimac, Newburyport, Newbury and Rowley, though at this point there have not been any reported cases of West Nile or EEE in humans or animals locally.
Clarke was not willing to speculate as to whether this year’s schedule will be affected.
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Clarke said. “We went through it last year. Hopefully, it won’t happen. But the most important thing is protecting our student-athletes. We want them to be healthy first and foremost.”