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New testing rules for many school athletes after COVID-19 outbreaks in Washington

The new requirements involve upping testing requirements for all athletes, coaches, trainers and personnel regardless of vaccination status.

Editor's note: The above video on outbreaks linked to four high school wrestling tournaments originally aired Dec. 15, 2021.

SEATTLE – The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) updated its COVID-19 health and safety requirements for high-risk indoor sports at schools Friday following several major outbreaks linked to four high school wrestling tournaments in western Washington.

The new requirements involve upping testing requirements for all athletes, coaches, trainers and personnel regardless of vaccination status for sports like basketball, wrestling, water polo and competitive cheer.

Additionally, these individuals will have to be tested three times a week with at least one of these tests occurring a day before competition at most. If possible, these individuals should be tested on the day of the event.

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The new requirements come after four high school wrestling tournaments in early December led to an estimated 200 COVID-19 cases among students, staff and families across 20 schools. At least nine of those schools have reached outbreak status with three or more cases linked to the tournaments. 

The DOH said that genomic sequencing revealed that at least three of the cases were the omicron variant of the virus.

The four tournaments linked to the outbreak include:

  • John Birbeck Invitational in Lacey
  • Ed Arima Duals in Sumner
  • Lady Jags Kickoff Tournament in Puyallup
  • Yelm Girls Varsity in Yelm

Anyone who attended one or more of these tournaments should monitor for COVID-19 symptoms and get tested for the virus.

“Omicron is a game-changer, but we know layered prevention measures slow the spread of COVID-19 in sports, schools, and communities,” said Deputy Secretary for the COVID-19 response Lacy Fehrenbach in a written statement. “Please get vaccinated, boosted, wear a well-fitting mask, and maintain your distance to help our kids stay healthy, stay in the game, and stay in school.”

Additionally, the DOH has the following requirements for all K-12 sporting events to keep everyone competing, working or spectating as safe as possible:

  • All spectators must wear masks while indoors and should distance themselves from other families and households as much as possible
  • Athletes, coaches, trainers and personnel must wear a mask indoors unless they are actively competing
  • Referees must wear masks except when officiating and running

The DOH said that some local leaders are choosing to postpone or cancel sporting events to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and urges those parents to be patient with these developments.

Washington State Health Secretary Dr. Umair Shah said he does not expect any major changes in requirements for professional sports after the Seattle Kraken and Seahawks had games postponed, at least for now.

Shah is encouraging people to get vaccinated to slow the latest variant.  He added that it's still early when it comes to the omicron variant.  

"I'm really concerned that we haven't seen it play out in other settings. What happens when it gets into older populations," said Shah.

Also on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidance to endorse a test-to-stay policy for students and school staff who have been deemed a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case. The policy allows students and staff to remain in class despite being a close contact if they continue to test negative for the virus.

Previously, the CDC’s guidance was that students and staff who are deemed close contacts must isolate for 10 days.