In current COVID-19 outbreaks at colleges, sports activities are the frequent wrongdoer

Five out of nine recent school outbreaks of COVID-19 in the suburbs involved exercise, data from the Illinois Department of Public Health showed on Monday.

Of the remaining outbreaks, in three cases the sources were classrooms and in one case other non-sports activities.

“While it is difficult to pinpoint where exposure has occurred, we do hear investigations into people who have been exposed in locker rooms, weight rooms, social gatherings, bus rides and even in the field (with or without a mask),” the IDPH spokeswoman said Melaney Arnold said of school-related outbreaks across the state.

“In addition, some athletes play symptomatically and are not tested for fear of missing game time or quarantine.”

The news comes that the number of children ages 5-17 contracting COVID-19 has more than doubled in Cook and the Collar Counties.

Lake County had three school breakouts between mid-March and April 16, higher than the suburbs of Cook, DuPage, McHenry, and Will. Kane County didn’t have any.

The IDPH defines school outbreaks as five or more cases of COVID-19 in people with a common exposure on campus who live in different households.

Following reports of COVID-19 infections in early March, the Lake County Health Department investigated 22 cases involving two sports teams from Deerfield High School and a team from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein. There were no links between the schools, said medical epidemiologist Sana Ahmed.

Possible sources included “players who attended social gatherings outside of school prior to reports of cases, did not use social distancing or masking in locker rooms, on the bench, during practice or games and carpooling,” Ahmed said.

The county recommended protective measures such as masks before, during, and after gaming and testing players at least twice a week.

DuPage County had two outbreaks where the source was a classroom at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School in Hinsdale.

The school requires masking and desks that are 6 feet apart, said headmistress Carol A. Burlinski, who added the infections that appeared in eighth grade. “To be on the safe side,” the school switched to distance learning in March and will return to face-to-face learning on April 22nd.

Suburban Cook had two outbreaks: an exercise-related outbreak at Reavis High School in Burbank and classroom-related infections at Jerusalem Lutheran School in Morton Grove.

McHenry County had an outbreak at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake that was related to non-sports activities. Will County had an outbreak at Peotone Junior High School with sports as its source.

As the COVID-19 infections subsided after the winter summit, people have become more risk tolerant “and the risk is still out there,” said pediatrician and sports medicine specialist Dr. Rebecca Carl, member of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“We know cases are on the rise and youth sports can be a driver. We want kids to be active, but I think we need to be careful,” said Carl, who recommends wearing masks when exercising.

Weekly numbers of new COVID-19 infections in school-age children rose sharply from March to April, according to IDPH records. In a suburb of Cook, the number of new viruses in children ages 5-17 was 522 in the week ended March 6 and 1,304 in the week ended April 10.

Using the same age and timeframe: In DuPage, new cases went from 186 to 368; in Kane, new cases rose from 77 to 178; in the lake the number of new cases rose from 95 to 172; in McHenry the number of new cases grew from 40 to 86; and in Will, new cases went from 109 to 226.

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