St. Louis County identifies COVID-19 outbreaks tied to youth sports, explains restrictions


CLAYTON, Mo. – St. Louis County says that there is a good reason for restrictions on youth sports and they have the data to back it up. There are five documented clusters of COVID transmission among adolescents linked directly to sports practices or games.

They say that 20 players have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus in recent weeks. But, it is not clear if those cases were transmitted through an athletic or social activity.

St. Louis County’s decision to limit youth sports has been met with some opposition and defiance. Protesters have been marching in Clayton and at St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s home. The Rockwood school district just announced that they will allow high school athletes to play outside the St. Louis County. Incarnate Word Academy athletes will go to St. Charles County to play sports.

Student-athletes in multiple fall high school sports in St. Louis County are not allowed to compete in games this fall because of COVID-19 concerns. Games also will not be allowed for what are classified as high-frequency contact sports in St. Louis County this fall, no matter age.

St. Louis County is not the only place dealing with COVID-19 and youth sports. All junior varsity and varsity football players at Herculaneum High School have been told to quarantine for two weeks. School administrators say several students who played in the football game last Friday tested positive for COVID-19.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health shared this explanation for the restrictions today:

The reality is that games in high-contact sports present a risk of transmission. Players are within inches of other players, breathing, spitting and yelling without masks. Physical exertion entails heavy breathing, which is known to be a vector of disease spread. And related activities such as team huddles, shared meals, team bus rides, frequent carpooling and crowds of spectators further compound transmission risk. Decreasing opportunities for young people to congregate and spread the virus is a priority for St. Louis County, particularly because transmission among young people puts in-person education at risk.

Based on this data and in conjunction with study of best practices across the country, we have divided youth sports into three categories based on the amount of person-to-person contact that is involved. For low-contact sports and for medium-contact sports played by younger children, we are allowing games, with social distancing restrictions. For high-contact sports like football and some medium-contact sports played by older teens, we are not yet allowing games. See our full youth sports guidelines here.

The long-term effect of COVID-19 among children and adolescents is unknown. Alarmingly, studies have begun to show that young athletes who test positive for COVID-19 can suffer myocarditis as a result. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart and affect its electrical system, reducing its ability to pump and causing rapid or abnormal heart rhythms (or arrhythmias). Myocarditis is the third leading cause of sudden death in children and young adults.

It’s critical to understand that every single person who contracts COVID-19 has the potential to infect multiple networks of people around them. Young people with COVID-19 may spread it to older relatives, friends and those in the community who are more apt to develop serious symptoms – or die – from the disease. Research indicates that adolescents spread the virus just as efficiently as adults. At this time, more than 600 students and staff at schools in St. Louis County have been quarantined because of potential exposures, all while no games are being played in high-contact sports.

Until community transmission in St. Louis County is reduced and until we can recommend that high schools return to in-person education, we cannot recommend resumption of games in high-contact high school sports. All of these decisions have been – and will continue to be – driven by public health department data and lived experience.

The Department of Public Health recognizes the importance of the physical activity and social support provided by athletics. DPH allows – and encourages – individual and team workouts, skill development work and other activities. Participants in many sports are permitted to play competitive games. However, we are recommending – but not requiring – that high-contact fall sports shift to a spring schedule, as allowed by the Missouri High School Sports Activities Association.

Our guidance will continue to change as we closely monitor transmission in the community. We will continue to seek feedback from stakeholders and watch the data with the knowledge that our decisions regarding how and when we resume many activities, include youth sports, could significantly affect the well-being of many residents, not just young athletes. We take our responsibility to protect St. Louis County very seriously.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health will continue to make decisions to keep our children safe, fight community transmission and encourage healthy activities.

St. Louis County Department of Public Health

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