EEE Virus Threat Affecting High School Schedules

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High schools in eastern Massachusetts have been forced to shift practice times and reconsider game schedules amid a scare caused by the Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, which reportedly killed a woman from Fairhaven on Sunday.

Carried by mosquitos, EEE has infected three individuals in Grafton, Franklin County and Bristol County, according to the state Department of Public Health. As reported by The MetroWest Daily News, aerial spraying of a pesticide started at 7:30 p.m. Monday and lasted until 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. The spraying took place from Marlborough to Douglas, north to south, and Framingham to Millbury, east to west. Towns and health boards across the state are prohibiting outdoor activities and sports practices and games — on town property — after dusk.

“We know we need to protect the kids and coaches and fans," Milford High School athletic director Peter Boucher told the Daily News. "But we know people love night soccer and Friday night football, and it’s a big deal in Milford.”

Mosquitoes carrying EEE were found in Westborough and mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus were found in Framingham earlier this month. Since then, high school administrators have had to suspend all activities from dusk to dawn — even with the sun setting earlier each day — at least until the first weather freeze, when the risk of EEE would most likely be eliminated. The average freeze in eastern Massachusetts is Oct. 15, according to the Weather Channel.

“We’ve told everyone to be off the fields by 7 p.m. until the end of September and by 6 p.m. throughout October or until the first frost comes,” Methuen High School Matthew Curran told the Boston Herald. “All the night games we had planned will be shifted to the afternoon. It’s not worth the risk to play at night — we’re going to err on the side of caution.”

“We’ve moved our football game against Wayne Valley from 6 to 3:45,” Bill Martin, athletic director at Andover, told the Herald. “We’ll watch how things go for the next couple of weeks and go from there. I feel badly for the kids because they like the night games, but you have to take the safety factor into consideration and that makes this an easy decision.”

“For us it’s a moot point now,” Nipmuc athletic director Chris Schmidt told the Daily News. “We have nothing before 8 a.m. and nothing after 6 p.m.”

Still, Schmidt is taking additional precautions. “For us, we’re trying to wear long sleeves as much as we can,” he said. “All of our (medical) kits will have bug spray in them. We’re encouraging our athletes to spray themselves prior to playing or practicing.”

As for competition, schools such as Methuen are electing to move games up to Friday afternoon while others will move Friday night games to Saturdays.

Milford High athletics needs to conclude activities by 6 p.m., while the Westborough Board of Health voted Friday to cancel all outdoor activities taking place on town or school property after 7 p.m. “The most important thing is that kids are safe,” Westborough High athletic director Johanna DiCarlo said. “That’s something that we all take very seriously. While it’s a little of an inconvenience, the biggest priority is our kids being safe.”

Meanwhile in Rhode Island, where two mosquitos were found to be carrying EEE, the Rhode Island Department of Health on Monday issued a warning to school and municipal leaders to use smart scheduling for sports and other outdoor activities.

As reported by the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Interscholastic League assistant director Michael Lunney said the league was working directly with the health department as to how to handle the issue. Lunney said there is a direct contact for schools to call for information specific to their area to help them make a decision on what’s best for their school.

“Our only message is to look at their own situation and make sure they’re doing their due diligence and using the resources available,” Lunney told the Journal. “The facilities are all different; some are in wooded areas, some in wide-open spaces and all those things can influence a decision.”

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