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St. Louis County links COVID-19 clusters 'directly to sports practices or games'

Each group involves high schoolers, the county added

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — As parents and student-athletes continue to protest the ban on some youth sports games – including high school football – St. Louis County health officials said they are seeing a link between youth sports and youth cases of COVID-19.

The St. Louis County Department of Public Health has documented five clusters of COVID-19 spreading among young athletes “linked directly to sports practices or games,” the county said in a news release Friday morning.

Each group involves high schoolers, the county added, but didn’t say exactly how many cases were linked to these clusters.

In addition to those five clusters, St. Louis County knows of more than 20 other student-athletes who have contracted the virus in recent weeks. In those cases, it’s not clear how the students got the virus – whether it was through an athletic or social activity.

“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,” the county wrote in its email update Friday morning.

READ MORE: A lawsuit and sidelined players: Coronavirus continues to disrupt St. Louis area sports

Despite protests, pleas and even a lawsuit, the county said the restrictions on youth sports will stay in place until it’s deemed safe for kids to compete.

“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,” county health officials wrote.

Even without games being played, St. Louis County said more than 600 students and staff members at county schools have been quarantined because of potential exposures.

READ ALSO: Rockwood School District considers allowing games outside of St. Louis County borders, email says

On Friday, the county health department released its latest two-week in-depth analysis of COVID-19 cases.

Between Sept. 1-14, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health reported:

  • 39 students tested positive for COVID-19, 31 of those resulted in school-related exposures which forced more than 200 students and staff members to quarantine
  • 59% of cases involved high school students, 15% were middle school students, 26% were elementary school students
  • 14 staff members tested positive, at least five of those resulted in school-related exposures which forced 225 students and staff members to quarantine

Between Sept. 1 and Sept. 14, new COVID-19 cases among 10-19-year-olds decreased by 41%.

The positivity rate also dramatically decreased for this age group, going from 15% to 6.9% over the two-week timeframe. However, the county warned, “this age group still has the highest positivity rate among St. Louis County residents.”