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'Very alarming positivity rate' | St. Louis County executive defends youth sports restrictions

The new guidelines allow younger athletes to participate in games in some lower-contact sports. Older athletes still can't play, including high school football

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — A "very alarming positivity rate" for older teenagers is a big part of the reason high schoolers cannot competitively play high-contact sports, including football, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page explained Friday morning.

He held his regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefing, where he first talked about how the virus is impacting long-term care facilities in the county. In the question-and-answer portion of the briefing, Page was asked about new youth sports guidelines and the controversy they've caused.

“These decisions surrounding public health and welfare safety are difficult and complex,” Page said.

The new guidelines allow younger athletes to participate in games in some lower-contact sports. However, older student-athletes still cannot play – and that includes high school football.

Athletes can still practice and scrimmage.

READ MORE: Some games allowed: St. Louis County updates youth sports guidelines

You can watch the full briefing from Page in the video player below:

Families have been speaking out since Page announced the changes Wednesday. They’re upset and plan to protest in the county executive’s neighborhood over the weekend and in Clayton Monday. Thousands more have signed an online petition.

On Friday, Page said that there’s been push back and concern involving every public health order given since the pandemic began.

“We process those in the department of public health and we make adjustments whenever possible,” Page explained. “But we will always put the health and safety of everyone in our community first.”

The county executive said parents in the community have been very engaged in the conversation involving children and how the pandemic is impacting families. He said county officials will continue to have open discussions with them about their concerns.

RELATED: 'Our voices collectively have been heard' | Parents plan petitions, protests against St. Louis County sports restrictions

The positivity rate for teens ages 15-19 is five times higher than the rate for kids younger than 10, according to St. Louis County's coronavirus data. He called it a “very alarming positivity rate” for the older teens.

“That combined with some high-contact youth sports has led our public health experts and advisers to determine that there are some types of youth sports that should be restricted in their activities, games and competitions and should only be allowed to scrimmage and practice,” Page said.

Page stressed that the county’s guidelines on youth sports fall in line with recommendations from public health experts.

With no competitions allowed, one parent told 5 On Your Side she’s especially concerned for older kids who are thinking about college opportunities.

“All the players on her club team are in St. Charles County and they are playing and able to do that,” explained Missy Brown. “It's been tough. She has aspirations to go to college and play college softball and she played club softball all summer.”

5 On Your Side's Abby Llorico spoke to a mother of two boys. 

Ann Shanfeld said some of the continued restrictions don’t make sense to her--like banning spectators at the youngest kids’ games.

“To take the opportunity away to watch your child play a sport is just completely unacceptable and I think that's why most parents are upset,” she said. “Parents, they want justification, and if there is none, they won't follow the rules."

Shanfeld says she feels thankful she’s able to send her kids to school in-person five days a week at their parochial school, where they’ve proven able to follow COVID- 19 prevention rules.

"I feel it’s important for us to have a voice and St. Louis County doesn't have a voice right now," she added. 

RELATED: 'This is really a huge blow' | Student-athletes protest St. Louis County executive's stance on high school athletics

St. Louis County Councilman Tim Fitch introduced an ordinance that would require county council approval of any executive mandate during a state of emergency.

“No individual should fear oversight. They should have to come before a public body like the county council and explain why they're making the decisions they're making,” Fitch said.

Page addressed the ordinance Friday, saying it was initially driven by the mask mandate and other public health orders.

"I do believe this authority rests with the county executive and should continue to rest with the county executive as it does with every chief executive in every similar jurisdiction in the country," Page said.

READ MORE: County councilman wants oversight on pandemic mandates