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Sports identified as cause of most school COVID-19 outbreaks, analysis shows

Data from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reveals most COVID outbreaks in schools are happening outside of classrooms.

TACOMA, Wash. — An analysis by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department reveals most COVID outbreaks in schools are happening outside of classrooms.

The overwhelming majority of cases were tied to sports, the department said.

In its first report using a new reporting format that considers outbreak locations, 89% of infections were related to athletics. Only 8% were in classrooms.

Of the 90 outbreak cases reported this week, 80 were linked to sports, 7 were in classrooms, 3 were tied to other activities, and none were related to transportation, the department said.

“We believe this gives you a more accurate picture of school outbreaks,” the department wrote in a blog post.

Student-athletes are required to adhere to a set of safety rules during practice and competition, which vary from sport to sport, but many participants are often in close contact, unmasked.

CDC guidance for schools advises districts to cancel high-risk sports and activities, like football, wrestling, and band.

Washington has not gone that far, but the Department of Health, which is helping coordinate testing in schools, is encouraging districts to protect learning over extracurricular activities.

“We have been working with our schools to remind them that the most critical aspect of where testing should be employed is really to make sure that kids are remaining in the classroom,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Secretary of Health.