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COVID-19 outbreaks connected with high school wrestling tournaments being investigated by state department of health

Three tournaments included wrestlers from Clark County high school teams

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor, and
, Columbian staff writer

he Washington State Department of Health is investigating outbreaks of COVID-19 connected with four high school wrestling tournaments held the weekend of Dec. 3, including three in which Clark County teams participated.

The number of cases among vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals ranges between 80 and 90, but that total may change as the investigation continues, the health department said in a press release Wednesday.

Three of those cases have been identified as the omicron variant, and additional omicron cases are expected to be identified in the coming days, according to state health officials.

Clark County Public Health has identified 28 cases among wrestling teams at four Clark County high schools, according to Clark County Public Health spokesperson Marissa Armstrong. She said it is not yet known whether those cases were included in the tally released by the Washington State Department of Health on Wednesday.

“The numbers are changing rapidly,” Armstrong said. “We’ve identified cases among teams that attended events other than those four tournaments the state announced.”

The three tournaments with local participants were the John Birbeck Invitational at Timberline High School in Lacey, the Lady Jags Kickoff Tournament at Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup and the Yelm Girls Jump On In tournament at Yelm High School.

Camas, Mountain View, Ridgefield, Union, Washougal, La Center and Kelso had wrestlers compete in the Yelm girls event. The Prairie girls had wrestlers at the Emerald Ridge tournament. And the Skyview and Prairie boys teams had wrestlers at the Birbeck Invitational.

In the coming days, local health departments will likely send out notifications to impacted schools with further guidance on next steps, the health department said.

Outbreaks at additional wrestling tournaments are expected to be identified soon, and the number of known cases will likely increase, according to state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist.

The State Department of Health and other local health jurisdictions are determining whether health recommendations need to be updated as the omicron variant picks up speed, especially for high-contact, indoor sports events, Lindquist said. 

“I looked at some of the pictures and videos of these events, and there were a ton of people in indoor spaces, crowded into bleachers, not wearing masks,” Lindquist said. “I can say pretty clearly: No, guidance was not being followed.

“We would really hope that anyone who was at one of these events, because transmission is so likely with this new variant, get tested.”

It is unknown at this time if unvaccinated participants were more likely to be impacted by the outbreaks.

According to Lindquist, getting vaccinated and wearing a mask, as well as avoiding crowded events, are still the best ways to slow the spread of the disease.

“It’s very disturbing to me that we’ve identified omicron as one of the variants in this outbreak,” Lindquist said. “The ability to transmit an airborne infection in a wrestling match is just higher than at most events. On top of this, you put people in a crowded indoor space — bleachers — where mask wearing is not optimal, this is a perfect situation for transmission and outbreaks.”

Ten omicron cases have been identified in Washington, not including the three that were identified Wednesday as a part of the outbreak, according to Lindquist.

The department recommends that anyone who attended the events as a participant, coach, official, support staff or spectator should monitor symptoms and get tested for COVID-19. Anyone with symptoms or who tests positive should stay home from work, school and social activities, it said.

“This outbreak serves as clear reminder that COVID-19 continues to spread in our communities,” the health department release stated. “The best protection against it is to get vaccinated, and then for those 16 years and older to get a booster shoot as soon as they are eligible.”

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