THIS week’s positive Covid-19 test within Irish racing has highlighted the importance of having strict raceday protocols in place, says Dr Jennifer Pugh, senior medical officer with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.
Jockey Shane Crosse was shocked to be told he was carrying the virus after being tested this week ahead of a planned trip to Doncaster to ride in today’s St Leger. Crosse was asymptomatic and did not feel unwell. He would not have been tested but for the new protocol for elite sports people travelling abroad.
Crosse immediately informed his boss Joseph O’Brien and Dr Pugh of the test result, and provided a list of his recent close contacts. Those who live and travel with Crosse were sent for tests and automatically prohibited from going racing for two weeks.
The jockey rode at Navan on Thursday but, as riders are spread throughout racecourse buildings at the moment, only a handful of other jockeys qualified as ‘close contacts’ of Crosse. These riders are also prevented from going racing until their test results come back and confirm they are not infected.
Dr Pugh said: “Shane did nothing wrong. He has no symptoms and his close contacts were minimal. His behaviour has been exemplary. But this does hammer home to everyone coming racing that we need to make every effort to minimise our social contacts, particularly in the context of a rising number of positive cases nationally.”
According to public health advice, a close contact is spending more than 15 minutes of face-to-face contact within two metres of someone who has coronavirus, indoor or outdoor, or living in the same house or shared accommodation as someone who has coronavirus.
Dr Pugh added: “We have been in communication with [Departments of] Public Health today, notified them of the test, and they are happy with the steps we have taken.
“It means that those who have shared a car with Shane, and those who live with him, have been informed they must also self-isolate for 14 days.
“We have been prepared for this and have responded accordingly, and this case reinforces just why we have had such strict protocols in place since racing resumed on June 8th. These measures ensure that social distancing is taking place at racecourses, and face masks and coverings are mandatory both inside and outside.
“Shane is employed by trainer Joseph O’Brien and we have been working with Joseph to provide contact tracing and testing of Shane’s close contacts.”
The trainer’s horses were allowed run at Limerick and Kilbeggan yesterday but, as a precaution, the horses were taken care of by staff from other yards.
Dr Pugh said there was no question of racing being stopped. She said: “Public Health are satisfied with our protocols and the measures we have taken, and for racing to continue under strict protocols behind closed doors.”
Asked if the IHRB had considered taking random Covid-19 tests at the races, Dr Pugh said: “Asymptomatic screening is not recommended by Public Health. It can become very complicated. You could get a high positive rate but those people could be at the end of their infection.”
Tom Marquand has replaced Crosse on Galileo Chrome at Doncaster today and Crosse will also miss out on some fancied rides at the Curragh on Sunday. He was due to ride Pretty Gorgeous in the Moyglare Stud Stakes.
Other jockeys who were stood down at Limerick yesterday due to their passing contacts with Crosse could yet be cleared in time to ride this weekend.