With its lethal potential, the coronavirus has injected itself into almost every facet of our lives the past seven months.
And the efforts to combat it have triggered no end of arguments over mask-wearing, business limitations or closures, in-person or remote education, public gatherings and even attending church. Even the safety of trick-or-treating.
And, oh, yes, participation in high school fall sports as well.
The City of Racine was at the heart of the COVID hand-wringing over high school sports this summer, after the city enacted its plans to bar “high risk” activities like football, soccer and volleyball within the city limits.
Racine Unified schools went along and deep-sixed fall sports at city high schools. Schools in western Racine County went a different route and games there are going on. The city ban also put a pinch on private schools like St. Catherine’s and Racine Lutheran since they couldn’t play or practice inside city limits and had to move them away from home sites. Statewide, about 30 percent of schools dropped fall sports.
Many of the decisions on these issues by public officials and others had to be made in quasi-darkness, since we knew little about COVID-19, how it spreads and whether restraints would be effective or not. We looked to science, but science early on gave us only educated guesses, but it marched along trying to gain more insight with new research.
One of those insights came this month with the release of a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the news was encouraging.
In a survey of more than 30,000 Wisconsin high school athletes at schools where athletic programs had restarted fall sports in September, the evidence showed no sports were found to have a higher incidence of COVID-19 overall than other 14-17 year-olds.
Sports, no sports – no difference.
The survey, lead by Dr. Andrew Watson of the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, examined responses from 207 schools with 16,000 practice sessions and more than 4,000 games. It found there were 271 student athletes who contracted COVID-19, compared with 2,318 Wisconsin children aged 14-17 over the month of September.
None of the cases involving athletes resulted in hospitalization or death.
It is perhaps important to note that the restarted fall high school sports programs were not just business as usual. The high school programs all had formal plans to reduce the risk of transmission with masks for staff and players, temperature checks, social distancing, increased facility cleaning and staggered arrivals and departure times for events.
And, since football and soccer are outdoor sports, it remains to be seen if the safe ratio can be maintained at indoor winter sports like basketball.
Still, this study — and it’s only one study — suggests that participation in sports doesn’t put young athletes at increased risk for contracting the coronavirus, compared to other youths.
Science, right now, says: “Let them play.”
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