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Case Study: High School Wrestling Tournament vs. COVID-19 (It Actually Happened)

January 26, 2021

Schools that encourage masks and social distancing for in-person learning have minimized transmission of COVID-19, according to a review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Jan. 26, but at least one sport does not pass the safety test.

The CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also released Jan. 26, highlighted two Florida high school wrestling tournaments in early December where 38 of 130 athletes, coaches and referees were diagnosed with COVID-19. Only 54 attendees were tested, so the number of people sickened by COVID-19 could have been even higher.

Contact tracing found 41 of 95 people in close contact with those infected at the tournament also tested positive. A 50-year-old died.

Because of the outbreak, an estimated 1,700 in-person school days were lost because of isolation and quarantine of patients and contacts. The days lost would have been higher, noted the CDC, if the outbreak hadn’t happened near the end of the fall semester. After the outbreak, the unidentified county canceled all winter indoor and outdoor high school athletics.

“We’re still seeing exponential increases in coronavirus cases across the country and need to practice caution and stay vigilant,” said Dr. Faiqa Cheema, assistant director of general infectious disease at Hartford Hospital. “We are still in the middle of a pandemic. No human interaction is completely risk-free as human beings are the vectors of this virus and continue to be the reason for sustained transmission.”

In Louisiana, state health officials confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak after more than 20 reports of athletes, staff and attendees tested positive following a wrestling tournament Jan. 15-16 at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales. Several schools and an estimated 400 wrestlers participated in the tournament, though no spectators were allowed the first day. Unlike the Florida outbreak, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association said it would not cancel future wrestling events or add prevention measures beyond masks, limiting capacity and screening.

New Hampshire is the only New England state allowing high school wrestling, limiting events to dual meets. Connecticut and Vermont have canceled their wrestling seasons. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine have postponed their seasons until spring.