In Massachusetts, 130 COVID Clusters Linked to Sports

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The Massachusetts Department of Public Health found links between organized sports and more than 130 COVID-19 clusters after athletics returned last year.

According to data obtained by GBH News, the sports-related clusters included data from July 2020 through late January 2021. According to the Department of Public Health, 82 of the school-related clusters traced back to ice hockey, 19 to basketball, eight to soccer, three to football, and two each to baseball, cheerleading, gymnastics, lacrosse and swimming.

While many of the clusters included less than five cases, the largest cluster was reportedly logged on Nov. 20, 2020, with 15 confirmed cases in Abington and Marlborough.

“The information furnished by DPH leaves some key questions unanswered,” wrote GBH News’ Adam Reilly. “For example, It doesn't say whether individual clusters were driven by sports-related activities like practice or game play, or by ancillary activities like socializing between players or spectators.

“The ages of the persons affected is also unclear from the data provided, as is the impact on schools and workplaces as individuals were diagnosed and their family members, friends and acquaintances responded.

“Still, the new data offers the fullest picture yet of how the decision to continue athletic activities during the pandemic — at a time when the public was repeatedly urged to limit contacts with anyone outside their household — may have impacted public health.”

High school sports have been operating with COVID-19 regulations intended to limit contact as much as possible. Still, the clusters led to Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker shutting down ice hockey for two weeks on Oct. 22 after the Department of Public Health identified at least 30 clusters involving the sport.

Massachusetts will run high school sports for the 2020-21 school year through July 3, with the calendar concluding with track and field, baseball, golf, lacrosse, tennis, rugby, softball and boys’ volleyball.

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