In recent COVID-19 outbreaks at schools, sports are the frequent culprit

Five out of nine recent school COVID-19 outbreaks across the suburbs involved sports, Illinois Department of Public Health data showed Monday.

Of the remaining outbreaks, the sources were classrooms in three cases and other nonsports activities in one.

“While it is difficult to determine where an exposure occurred, we are hearing during investigations about people unmasked in locker rooms, weight rooms, social gatherings, bus rides, and even on the field (not wearing or improperly wearing masks),” IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said of school-related outbreaks across the state.

“Additionally, some athletes are playing while symptomatic and not getting tested for fear of missing playing time or quarantine.”

The news comes as the numbers of children ages 5 to 17 contracting COVID-19 is more than doubling across Cook and the collar counties, weekly tallies comparing March and April show.

Lake County had three school outbreaks, higher than suburban Cook, DuPage, McHenry and Will counties between mid-March and April 16. Kane County had none.

The IDPH defines school outbreaks as five or more COVID-19 cases among people with a shared exposure on campus living in different households.

After reports of COVID-19 infections in early March, the Lake County Health Department investigated and found 22 cases involving two sports teams at Deerfield High School and one team at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein. There were no connections between the schools, medical epidemiologist Sana Ahmed said.

Potential sources included “players attending social gatherings outside of school prior to reports of cases, not social distancing or masking in locker rooms, while on the bench, during practices or games, and carpooling,” Ahmed explained.

The county recommended safeguards like masks before, during and after play and testing players at least twice a week.

DuPage County had two outbreaks where the source was a classroom at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School in Hinsdale.

The school requires masking and desks placed 6 feet apart, Principal Carol A. Burlinski said, who added the infections occurred in the eighth grade. “To err on the side of caution” the school switched to remote learning in March and will return to in-person learning April 22.

Suburban Cook had two outbreaks: a sports-related one at Reavis High School in Burbank, and classroom-related infections at Jerusalem Lutheran School in Morton Grove.

McHenry County had one outbreak at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake that was related to nonsports activities. Will County had one outbreak at Peotone Junior High School with sports as the source.

As COVID-19 infections waned after the winter peak, people have become more tolerant of risk “and the risk is still out there,” said pediatrician and sports medicine expert Dr. Rebecca Carl, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We know cases are going up and youth sports may be a driver. We want kids to be active, but my own opinion is we need to be cautious,” said Carl, who advises wearing masks while playing sports.

Also, weekly tallies of new COVID-19 infections in school-age children rose sharply from March to April, according to IDPH records. In suburban Cook, new virus cases in children ages 5 through 17 totaled 522 the week ending March 6, but were 1,304 the week ending April 10.

Using the same ages and time frame: in DuPage new cases went from 186 to 368; in Kane new cases rose from 77 to 178; in Lake new cases increased from 95 to 172; in McHenry, new cases grew from 40 to 86; and in Will, new cases went from 109 to 226.

  Youth sports was a factor in five out of nine recent COVID-19 outbreaks at suburban schools. Experts warn youths to wear masks at all times in school, on and off the court. Mark Welsh/
John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comA total of 3,365,282 Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
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