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Kansas City Star: Across KC, health officials warn schools against winter sports. Will anyone listen?

By Sarah Ritter

As the Kansas City metro reports skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and record hospitalizations, health officials are warning school districts against a particularly risky activity: indoor sports.

The Jackson, Johnson and Wyandotte county health departments all recently announced their recommendation against winter sports, held inside, where the virus can more easily spread. In particular, they warn against wrestling and basketball, where social distancing is impossible.

The Olathe, Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and De Soto districts all plan to move forward with winter sports. Kansas City Public Schools — one of the few districts where students are learning online only this fall — also will allow practices and games, without spectators. Winter sports have already begun in Lee’s Summit. And others, like the Kansas City, Kansas, school district, will decide in the coming days.

Health officials have praised districts for following mitigation strategies, such as requiring masks, which they say have helped limit in-school transmission. But this fall, sports — mostly football — led to dozens of cases and hundreds of students and employees in quarantine, disrupting classroom schedules and staffing needs. And as more students return to classrooms during the flu season, officials worry that allowing indoor sports will only exacerbate the risks.

But with cases surging metrowide, health officials have taken perhaps their strongest stance on sports yet — clearly warning districts not to allow them this winter season.

“While the decision is ultimately among families, schools, districts and health departments, from a medical standpoint, with allowing winter sports, there is definitely increased risk of transmission as we see cases continuing to rise in our area,” said Amol Purandare, an infectious disease doctor at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.

Purandare said that playing sports indoors makes it difficult to remain physically distanced, including on the bench and in the stands. Sports like wrestling make it impossible to social distance, or avoid breathing heavily in close contact with others. And the difficulties of continually cleaning uniforms and equipment during matches, and stopping so players can wash up, add another risk.

“For athletes, coaches, staff and families, if they do get COVID-19, there is a broad range from no or mild symptoms to very significant and life threatening symptoms. While children tend to have milder symptoms than adults, we have also seen children with severe symptoms as well,” Purandare said.


Read the full story via the Kansas City Star

Read the Children's Mercy Recommendations for a Safe Return to Sport