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Nearly Half of NC's Youth COVID Clusters Tied to Sports

Brock Fritz

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday that nearly half of the recent COVID-19 clusters in the state’s middle and high schools can be tied to athletics.

The NCDHHS press release said that between July 1 and Sept. 2, “clusters among school sports teams accounted for 45 percent of all clusters in North Carolina middle and high schools.

“Between July 1 and Sept. 2 there have been at least 42 athletics-related clusters in North Carolina public, charter and private middle and high schools, with a sharp increase in August coinciding with the start of the school year. Only four athletics clusters occurred in July.

“While NCDHHS data cannot distinguish how people were exposed in these clusters, past public health investigations in other states have shown that spread among teammates often happens off the field, including during practice.”

The NCDHHS released guidance for youth and amateur sports programs on Aug. 6, just in time for most high school sports to start for the 2021-22 school year. Wednesday’s release encouraged anyone at least 12 years old to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and noted that children age 17 and under made up 31 percent of North Carolina’s new cases for the week ending Sept. 4.

"We need everyone, including our student-athletes and their coaches, to increase layers of prevention to fight this more contagious Delta variant: Don’t wait to vaccinate and urge others to do the same," said NCDHHS chief medical officer and state health director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, M.D., MPH. "Tested, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Student-athletes who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine after a close contact with someone with COVID-19."

The NCDHHS is also recommending everyone wear a mask in indoor public spaces, and “sports programs practice social distancing when possible, disinfect equipment frequently and avoid sharing water bottles. Teams should also consider working out, including weight training, in groups or pods to limit exposure should someone become sick.”

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