Mukilteo School District sports teams hanging tough


Last updated 4/7/2021 at 12:08pm

David Pan

Kamiak's Kaitlyn Chua goes up for the ball against Mariner.

The move to open up schools and sports has come with some risk for COVID-infection, but the Mukilteo School District seems to have fared fairly well during the first of three prep sports seasons.

Traditional fall sports, such as football and volleyball, were scheduled to wrap up this week, with practices for spring sports set to begin this week.

"Moving into Phase 3 and expanding occupancy and activities is great news for all of us," said Dr. Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

He added that sports, particularly in schools, are showing to be an area of increased risk for viral spread.

"We've seen a growing number of cases in recent days," Spitters said on March 23, "and that's in sports settings and schools in particular. ... Since the beginning of the year, we've had cases associated with numerous sports, including football, volleyball, soccer, swimming, basketball, hockey, and softball, as well as general weight training."

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At least six cases were investigated in the past week around March 23, Spitters said. All six played or practiced on school sports teams while contagious, Spitters said.

Until last week, Kamiak had played all of its scheduled contests. But Friday's football game against Stanwood was canceled a few hours before kickoff. A message posted on the Stanwood website indicated that due to multiple non-school district functions over the past week in the community, the March 26 football game was canceled due to COVID exposure.

"Mukilteo School District athletic programs have had two unrelated positive COVID-19 cases in students participating in fall sports which began in late February and are ending this week," district communications and public relations director Diane Bradford wrote in an email.

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"In each case, district staff notified Snohomish Health District and the families of any students who were identified as 'close contacts' to quarantine for the recommended period. In the most recent case, the last practice and game of the season were canceled as a precaution. The district is reporting positive COVID-19 cases in schools weekly on the Return to School website."

As of last week, Mariner has not had any of its sporting events canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

"If somebody saw signs or symptoms or tests positive, then they are supposed to tell their coach," said Mukilteo School District athletic director Beth VanderVeen. "And then the coach is supposed to tell the athletic director, and the athletic director tells the school nurse and the site COVID supervisor. Each school has a COVID supervisor.

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"Then the school nurse takes it from there and works with the Department of Health, and researches the situation and scenarios and whether or not we need to contact trace and whether we need to shut down a program or quarantine. The same thing happens in school. It's the same process."

Spitters said as sports move from outdoors to indoors, the risk goes up for COVID-19 spread.

The close contact for sports is part of what spikes the risk, he said, adding that people meeting in parking lots, unmasked, during practice and events is part of what is increasing risk. While outdoor interaction is safer than indoor due to the ventilation, some sports such as basketball and volleyball are indoors.

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The blanket advice for preventing COVID-19 remains to stay masked and apart, and reserve close-contact for "the bubble" of a small group of people, seen daily.

The limit on new and widening interactions reduces the risk of exponential spread, a term that describes spread of a viral illness from one person to all contacts, and from all contacts to everyone each of those people comes in contact with.

"Schools, teachers and students are doing a great job with prevention measures in the classroom," Spitters said.

In other school settings, things were going well also, he said. But contact tracing showed more vigilance is needed in the sports realm, off the field.

Mask-free meetups in parking lots as well as time in locker rooms, bus rides, and carpools, are areas of concern.

"When breaking for snacks or water and get-togethers, social get-togethers outside of the sporting event itself among teammates," he said, is when people are taking infection risks.

Spitters said the new cases from those circumstances are a reminder so just a reminder to "keep up your guard 24/7."

VanderVeen said she is telling the district's coaches to keep encouraging kids and families to hang tough, especially as the state continues to open up.

"It's really important that we continue to message to our kids the importance of social distancing and wearing masks and good hygiene, and not hanging out as much as they want to just because we can get shut down, and not necessarily because of a positive case. It's because of contact tracing."

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