New COVID-19 Outbreaks Linked to High School and Youth Sports
School-related COVID-19 outbreaks are on the rise in Michigan, and many are linked to youth and high school sports, Michigan’s senior epidemiologist said Wednesday.
“The highest number of outbreaks are occurring in schools K-12 through 162, with 54 new outbreaks reported this week,” said Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of the Office of Epidemiology and Population Health in the Department of state health.
It comes as the majority of pandemic metrics in the state – including case rates, test positivity rates, and hospitalizations – are headed in the wrong direction. Some of those numbers reflect rates seen in late October, when trends accelerated, prompting the state to ban indoor contact sports in mid-November.
“We knew we were going to see cases associated with schools,” Lyon-Callo said at a press conference. “It is very important that the children are in school, be able to find a little more normalcy and receive an education in person, if that is what the family did to choose their child.”
However, she said children between the ages of 10 and 19 now have Michigan’s highest rate of COVID-19 cases, a rate that “is increasing faster than other age groups.”
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“We are definitely identifying epidemics associated with sport,” said Lyon-Callo. “We certainly pay a lot of attention to sports and have a sports testing program. …
“The classroom environment itself has not been a strong signal for outbreaks. These are generally activities associated with schools, including sports, but not limited to. “
Although state and local health officials have linked new cases to the sport, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has been hesitant about the connection.
“The MHSAA has not yet received any data or evidence that COVID-19 has been spread within teams through sports activities, or between teams playing sports against each other. We have seen statements according to which there are ‘basketball cases’ but there is clearly a difference between basketball (or any sport) being pinned down as a cause and students, who play basketball or a other sport, are infected with any range of activities, ”said Geoff Kimmerly, an MHSAA spokesperson.
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Instead, Kimmerly pointed to “parties, sleepovers or other activities taking place between students outside of training / competition that cause gaps” that could then prevent teams from playing.
Recently, health officials in Barry, Eaton and Ingham counties said at least 47 new cases in that region were linked to sports teams in Grand Ledge and Okemos. Some of those students have contracted highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, officials said.
Ingham County health worker Linda Vail directly pointed out that basketball was a problem.
“Basketball has been a concern. We have seen other basketball cases. We’ve seen other basketball teams go into quarantines, ”Vail said at a press conference Tuesday.
“In the end, basketball was a challenge … and so many public health officials, despite the fact that there was a decision to allow the game to return, we are in pretty bad shape. comfortable with what we thought could potentially happen with basketball. ”
Although Grand Ledge is in Eaton County and falls within the boundaries of the Eaton-Barry District Health Department, students in Okemos, Ingham County have also been affected by the outbreak, Vail said. But she declined to say how many Okemos students have contracted the virus, noting the number is small and may allow people to identify students with COVID-19.
“We need to be aware of protected health information when we go through these situations,” she said.
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At the end of February, Grosse Ile high school also had six cases related to the varsity hockey team, according to a letter the principal sent to parents.
Asked about comments from health officials in Ingham, Barry and Eaton counties, Kimmerly again said the MHSAA had no evidence that sports cause or exacerbate epidemics.
“We have not received anything in this office from any health official indicating that Student A gave the virus to Student B through sports contact,” Kimmerly said.
Michigan lawmakers sharply criticized state officials after the indoor sports ban was implemented. Earlier this year, parents, coaches and other advocates called on the health department and the governor to overturn the ban. They pointed to some initial data that appeared to show that almost all of the athletes tested in a pilot project limited to Michigan did not have COVID-19.
But the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found cases transmitted by high school sports in the country. In December, a report showed that at least 79 infections and one death were linked to high school wrestling tournaments in Florida. He also estimated 1,700 days of in-person school were lost to students needing to isolate and quarantine during the outbreak.
“High-contact sports activities in schools for which wearing a mask and physical distancing is not possible should be postponed during periods when the levels of community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 are high or high,” concludes the report.
Whitmer rescinded the ban on indoor contact sports in early February while putting in some restrictions. Kimmerly said last week over 7,000 regular season games were played and “almost all of them were played without incident.”
“We know that schools are doing everything they can to limit exposure opportunities – and athletes should follow all of these precautions,” Kimmerly said.
Contact Dave Boucher: [email protected] or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @ Dave_Boucher1.