The Hill-Murray's girls' hockey team has canceled four games and shut down its program until March 8 after three players continued to participate with the team while showing COVID-19 symptoms.

All three players later tested positive for the virus, the school said in a Feb. 24 letter to its girls' hockey families. The letter, signed by four top school officials, says two of the players showed symptoms "as early as last Thursday, and continued to attend hockey and school.''

Those players were with the team when the Class 2A, No. 3 Pioneers (10-1) played games against Breck on Feb. 18 and North St. Paul/Tartan last Saturday. No player was allowed to participate after testing positive.

As a result, North St. Paul/Tartan canceled five games. In addition to the Pioneers' team being in quarantine, another 21 Hill-Murray students and two teachers were forced to leave school for quarantine reasons, the letter said. The school's boys' junior varsity program was placed in quarantine until March 6. The girls' varsity's four would-be opponents now have holes in their schedules.

The Maplewood-based Catholic school's dilemma reflects challenges all schools have faced in enforcing COVID-19 protocols. It also shows how virus concerns in one program quickly ripple far beyond those on the team.

"These avoidable instances are a complete disregard for Hill-Murray's current school policy of not attending school or events if you are experiencing symptoms," the letter said.

North St. Paul/Tartan placed its varsity team in a two-week quarantine and canceled almost a quarter of its teams' games in a season already shortened by coronavirus. The schools' activities directors wrote in an e-mail that "none of the students affected have reported symptoms or a positive test." North St. Paul/Tartan's junior varsity is still playing.

So is Breck's varsity. Stacy Glaus, a member of the Golden Valley-based private school's communication office, wrote in an e-mail that school leaders "made the decision to not quarantine our team" based on discussions with the school's COVID-19 compliance team and twice-daily players' screenings that showed no signs or symptoms.

Hill-Murray officials said they put their team in quarantine after learning Monday night that one player had tested positive for the virus and had participated in school and with the team while having symptoms.

In doing so, Hill-Murray leaders "followed a precedent set when another program at school had multiple positive tests at one time," according to the letter signed by athletic director John Pohl, principal Erin Herman, president Jim Hansen and president-elect Melissa Dan.

School leaders learned on Tuesday that two more players had tested positive and one of them had been showing symptoms as early as the previous Thursday, the day the team played Breck.

The three players ''will also forfeit one additional game of play following the quarantine period," the letter said, adding, "Any further violations of school policy will result in a forfeiture of the remainder of the season."

The Warroad girls' hockey team canceled its trip to the Twin Cities and its Friday game at Hill-Murray. Next week's cancellations affect would-be Hill-Murray opponents Simley, Minnetonka and Holy Family.

The letter also said, "We have also become aware that the team held a dinner at a parents home in direct conflict with policies set for our athletic teams this year."

Canceled or postponed games surged statewide in late October and November as community transmission of the virus eventually led to curtailing the volleyball and football seasons early and delaying the start of winter sports.

In anticipation of COVID issues this season, the Minnesota State High School League approved a reduction in games in all sports while allowing schedule time to make up games that had to be postponed.