Doctors say sports have led to COVID outbreaks among kids, WIAA wants to see more data

MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin is seeing more COVID cases among kids than any other age group right now. Over the last few weeks, the state has seen a 56% increase in child COVID cases.

In Dane County, there has been a big increase in COVID cases in kids age 8-17 over the past four weeks, including an outbreak at a daycare earlier this month.

“There’s actually probably two things going on, there’s the variant and then there’s increase in spread,” said Dr. Gregory DeMuri, an infectious disease specialist at UW Health.

He said the UK variant is infecting children’s bodies faster and it’s spreading even quicker because COVID precautions are being relaxed.

“We know that people are really getting fatigued with masking, with hand hygiene, with social distancing,” said DeMuri.

He said the virus isn’t spreading so much inside schools, where school districts are social distancing, but there is more opportunity for it to spread outside the classroom.

“I think where things have become lax has been with sporting events and there have been a number of outbreaks in a lot of cases that we’re seeing that have been associated with sports and other youth activities outside of school. So that’s really where we need to start doubling down on our control measures,” said DeMuri.

DHS said there have been nearly 470 potential outbreaks in educational setting across the state. A spokesman at the Madison Metropolitan School District said it has no intention of changing its reopening plans because no outbreaks have happened in its buildings.

Dr. DeMuri said schools still need to speak up.

“The message we need to send, that school districts need to send, is that masks are mandatory. And they’re mandatory for sports participation, they’re mandatory in any kind of social setting,” said DeMuri.

But WIAA Deputy Director Wade Labecki said he hasn’t seen any documented cases that show school sports have contributed to the spread of COVID.

“That generalization is being thrown about without necessarily some backing. And if there’s data, we would love to be able to see that and present it to our doctors,” said Labecki.

He pointed to a study that found the virus wasn’t spread during games, but instead during socialization such as team meals and meetings.

WIAA has continued to encourage athletes and fans to wear a mask, social distance, and get vaccinated if they are eligible.

“It’s not required, it’s not mandated, but in order for our kids to enjoy their opportunities we need to work together as a community,” said Labecki.

School districts and county health departments determine the mask requirements during the regular season, but at WIAA tournaments athletes out on the field are not required to wear masks. Everyone in the stands and on the sideline must be masked.

“You don’t show up on the field and get COVID. It doesn’t pop up on the field. It’s gotta be brought to the field. So where did they get it and has it been spread from there?” said Labecki.

He said the WIAA is updating its guidelines as recommendations change.

“Right now we’re following what we do have. And we don’t have anything that is telling us that we need to change,” said Labecki.