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Eau Claire principal, health director share opinions of study showing prep sports don’t spread COVID

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EAU CLAIRE (WQOW)- Amidst rising case numbers across Wisconsin, a new study shows that high school sports have not caused an increase in COVID-19 infections among athletes.

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health released the study on October 22, finding that case and incidence rates of COVID-19 among student-athletes is lower than those reported for all 14-17-year-old children during the same time period.

Researchers surveyed over 200 schools that restarted fall sports in September, finding 271 athletes that contracted COVID-19 that month, compared to over 2,300 Wisconsin children within that age group.

Out of all athletes who have tested positive, only one case is known to trace back to participation in sports, which Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association officials say is an encouraging sign.

"The basic things that we're being told and taught to do has really attributed to being able to play, knowing that the virus is real, and returning student-athletes to their way of life that restores some social and emotional well being and health," said Paul Pedersen, a representative on the WIAA Board of Control and Principal of Regis Middle and High Schools.

Meanwhile, Eau Claire City-County Health Department Director Lieske Giese remains concerned about the potential spread of the virus throughout the winter sports season where many of them are played indoors, and because the data was taken early in the school year, future studies may not reflect it as case numbers rise across the state.

"Clearly this data is very preliminary," Giese said. "Most schools did not have sports happening by October 6, which was the end date of the study, and that does create some significant issues around evaluating the data. I hope that we continue to have more looks at data like this in the future."

Giese also says the data is hard to interpret because the WIAA does not require all athletes to be tested for COVID-19 as professional and college sports do, so it is difficult to truly know how much COVID-19 is being spread through sports.

Evan Hong

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