Fall sports are starting to wind down, and now schools and recreational sports are looking into how to move indoors once winter hits.
“We’re following the Utah High School Activities Association guidelines, as we have been all year,” said Tim Smith, with Cache County School District. “But things shift a little bit as we move indoors, because the risk factors are a little bit higher when you’re indoors versus outdoors.”
Just last week, Smith acknowledged some of the first school-transmission cases in Cache County School District as there was a “small outbreak with the volleyball team at Sky View.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the safest way to stay active and healthy is to focus on skill-building drills at home, while the highest risk comes from sport competitions with visiting teams from outside of the city or county.
And the risk is even higher when played indoors, in areas not well-ventilated, as can be seen in the CDC’s most recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for the coronavirus. In Thursday’s MMWR, the CDC published a study of how one men’s league hockey game in Florida led to 15 of the 22 players contracting COVID-19 six months ago.
“Ice hockey involves vigorous physical exertion accompanied by deep, heavy respiration, and during the game, players frequently move from the ice surface to the bench while still breathing heavily,” the report states. “The indoor space and close contact between players during a hockey game increase infection risk for players and create potential for a superspreader event, especially with ongoing community COVID-19 transmission.”
The CDC acknowledged none of the players wore masks in the locker rooms, nor on the bench — the minimum recommendations put forth by the UHSAA.
But according to Erik Akins, board president of the Cache Valley Jr. Aggies, there haven’t been any similar cases of superspreader events at the Eccles Ice Center in Logan.
“I think one of the big differences between, say a men’s league team and a youth organization is that sometimes there’s a lot of just chatting after for a men’s league,” Akins said, “where there wouldn’t be that with the kids, because parents have to be other places.”
And while there were concerns of not as much participation due to the pandemic, Akins said the rec leagues have a record number of kids signed up this year.
Akins said the rink is being proactive on implementing mitigation efforts to avoid the shutdowns of the spring.
“We know that the winters in Cache Valley are longer than in some areas,” he said. “And so I think that’s one of the reasons why, you know, it’s important to have activities like this, so people can have an outlet. They can get some exercise, they can feel better, they can have social interaction, but it needs to be done in a smart way.”
It’s the same conversation going on in school districts, as well.
“Right now, as a region, we have not solidified any decisions,” said Jesse Parker, the athletic director at Logan High School. “We have just been making sure we make it through the fall before we have those conversations.”
The UHSAA has released guidelines for winter sports like basketball, drill, wrestling and swimming, including a recommendation to keep venues at 25% capacity among fans.
Initial ideas for junior sports included only allowing one parent per student athlete — something that left some parents, like Mirinda Bingham, questioning whether or not to have their children participate.
“I find it ridiculous if we can’t go as a family,” the mother of three commented on a Facebook post on the issue.
This was going to be the first year with the Jr. Riverhawks for basketball for Bingham’s 10-year-old son, but “it is what it is,” she said.
“I just need all the details before we officially decide, and I’m not finding much about the Jr. Jazz youth league,” she told The Herald Journal. “But it doesn’t start until January either, and who knows what it will look like then.”
As with everything else, protocols have had to pivot to accommodate COVID-19.
According to Ainsli Jenks, a coach at Ridgeline High School, the updated protocol for the Jr. Riverhawks limits four spectators per player, though the plan is not finalized.
Missy Stuart, the athletic director at Green Canyon High School, said “even with 25% capacity, you can have more than one parent.”
Per the Utah Department of Health, masks are required at all gatherings until at least Oct. 29 because the Cache County is in the “high” transmission risk for COVID-19, but Stuart said the issue has been a battle to this point.
It’s also key that people agree to wear masks, Stuart said.
“They’ll come into the facility with a mask on and then it doesn’t remain on and that can’t happen if we’re going to continue with winter sports,” Stuart said. “We’ve been told that we have to stop games if people aren’t wearing masks, or ask people to leave if they won’t wear their mask.”
Other than the cases associated with the Sky View volleyball team, Smith said cases have been caught early and quarantined at home before spreading to other faculty or students.
There are currently eight active COVID-19 cases at Ridgeline, six at Sky View, four at Green Canyon and five at Mountain Crest. There are three cases at South Cache Middle School, two at North Cache and one at Spring Creek.
In Logan High School, there are six cases, and there are five at Mount Logan Middle School.