Another virus spike leads to youth sports pause

Oct 16, 2020 by

Published in the October 16, 2020 edition.

By DAN TOMASELLO

LYNNFIELD — In the wake of yet another surge in COVID-19 cases, the Emergency Management Team announced on Thursday, Oct. 15 that youth sports will be paused for two weeks.

The announcement came 24 hours after the Massachusetts COVID-19 Command Center dropped Lynnfield from “yellow” to “green.” The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Community Level Data Map uses color codes to designate the number of COVID cases in each community at a given time. A designation of “gray” means fewer than five reported cases in a community. A “green” designation means fewer than four cases per 100,000 of population. “Yellow” means four to eight cases and “red” indicates more than eight cases based on a population of 100,000.

Town Administrator Rob Dolan told the Board of Selectmen that the town had 15 positive novel coronavirus cases in the past eight days. He said the cases represent a “wide range of ages.”

“In the last two days alone, eights cases have been reported,” said Dolan. “This is of great concern to the community. As a result of contact tracing related to recent cases, we have identified for the very first time potential exposure to cases through participation in youth sports activities. As a result, a number of Lynnfield students are currently under quarantine and their classmates, siblings, teammates and parents are potentially affected as well. With school thankfully now in session, our top priority must be preserving our hybrid educational model to ensure that our children continue to receive the benefit of in-person instruction.”

Due to the increase in positive cases and ongoing contact tracing, Dolan said the Emergency Management Team decided to hit the brakes on youth sports for a two-week period. He said Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director Glenn Davis, Superintendent Kristen Vogel, Recreation Commission Chairman Rich Sjoberg and himself made the difficult decision.

“We believe the responsible course is to put youth sports on pause for at least a two-week period to allow for contact tracing to continue with the number of cases we now have and to curtail further spread as much as possible,” said Dolan.

Dolan said Lynnfield High School sports will continue being played.

“High school sports will continue under the supervision of the MIAA and the Lynnfield High School administration,” said Dolan. “All positive cases involving students continue to be reported immediately to the Lynnfield Public Schools. If your family is affected, you will be contacted. All protocols for contact tracing and notification have been and will continue to be followed.”

Dolan noted that, “The town has fully supported the continuation of youth sports under the state guidelines in order to afford youth the opportunity to participate as much as possible in these important recreational activities.”

“Youth sports groups have done an outstanding job and have been responsible in following the guidelines,” said Dolan. “However, with school now in session, these recent events have made it clear that the community must do everything possible to ensure that our children continue to receive the critical in-person instruction that our hybrid learning model affords them. Safety and health remain our most important concerns. What we have seen over the last few days has made it clear that this pause in youth sports is necessary to give our children the best educational opportunity we can afford them. Thank you for your understanding.”

Dolan recalled that the town was “red” for three weeks over the course of the past month-and-a-half. He said the town worked diligently to move from “red” to “yellow” to “green.”

“What we have seen over the last few days is very concerning,” said Dolan. “The reason is because with youth sports, the quarantining of teammates could literally take out an entire youth team from school activities. We are also concerned about the number of cases that we have. I want to be clear we don’t take reactionary measures in terms of COVID. But with the amount of new cases that we have and the amount of time it takes the Board of Health and the state to do contact tracing, we don’t know right now who could be affected. We are finding out more and more every hour.”

Dolan said the decision to pause youth sports is in the town’s best interest.

“Although it is important to play soccer and baseball, we want to ensure kids are staying in school,” said Dolan. “That is our top priority. I also want to stress that the superintendent of schools and the School Department are made aware of every single case.”

Davis noted that the number of “red” communities in the state increased from 40 on Oct. 7 to 63 on Oct. 14.

“The state’s positivity rate has increased dramatically over the past several weeks,” said Davis. “We are seeing an increase in cases everywhere. We need to continue doing the right things we have been doing. We need to wear a mask, wash our hands, keep our distance and keep gatherings small. Don’t share food, drinks or utensils. If you feel sick, stay home.”

Davis noted that the School Department announced that a third grader has tested positive.

“There are also nine other kids in quarantine,” said Davis. “That means there are 10 kids who are unable to be in school in the hybrid model for a two-week period. That is a big hit. The schools worked really hard to be able to open the hybrid model. You could see the excitement on the kids’ faces where we were doing fire drills. They were excited to be in school, being with their friends and learning in-person with the teachers. Keeping kids in school right now is our top priority.”

Dolan said the Emergency Management Team decided to pause youth sports because the town is waiting to see if there are additional positive cases.

“There are many being tested because they fear they have been exposed in some way,” said Dolan. “The reason why we are pausing youth sports when we are ‘green’ and did not when we were ‘red’ is because we need to catch up to identify how wide-spread the impact has been on youth sports. We may re-evaluate it in a few weeks, but right now we have a backlog of contact tracing that we are trying to catch up on. It’s a very time consuming process.”

If a person is contacted, Dolan urged people to be “as open as possible.”

“One of the challenges we have right now with this terrible pandemic is there is now a sense of shame and nervousness if you are identified,” said Dolan. “Anyone can get the coronavirus. It shouldn’t have a stigma that makes people feel bad. What we need is if people are contacted to tell us who they have been with and where have they been so we can nip this in the bud.”

Davis recalled that people who are asymptomatic and have zero symptoms can spread the virus to others.

“If you test positive and you remain asymptomatic, you can return to the general population 10 days after being symptom-free,” said Davis. “The person who is in quarantine needs to be quarantined for 14 days regardless of any negative testing that takes place during that time because you may not be positive or show symptoms up to day 14. One of the complaints we have heard from folks is ‘why is my child being forced to stay home for 14 days when the child who is positive is back in school after 10 days.’ It’s the asymptomatic person who can be the carrier, share it and bring it home to an elderly loved one who lives in a household or share it at a family gathering.”

Selectmen Chairman Chris Barrett thanked Dolan and Davis for leading the town through a “difficult couple of weeks.” He acknowledged children and parents are going to be upset and frustrated by the announcement, but said it’s the right decision.

“I think this is the right step to take,” said Barrett. “We need to preserve the hybrid model. It has been a bumpy road going to a ‘red’ community and this is going to put us in jeopardy again. I think it is best for the safety, health and well-being for all of the kids in the town of Lynnfield to pause youth sports and get a better understanding for where we stand as a community.”

Selectman Phil Crawford encouraged people to be “vigilant” and to follow the CDC and state’s guidelines.

“I support what our Emergency Management Team has put forth,” said Crawford.

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