The Washington State Department of Health is investigating multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 linked to high-school wrestling tournaments this month, with participants from schools in 13 counties and Oregon.
While health officials are still looking into the incidents, the number of cases is currently estimated to be at least between 80 and 90, including both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, and at least three cases have been identified as the highly transmissible omicron variant.
Washington state epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist on Wednesday said he expects the number of total cases and omicron cases to increase in the coming days as contact tracing continues.
“Even if we weren’t in the pandemic and we had an outbreak this size this early, this would be considered a very large outbreak,” he said.
The affected wrestling tournaments, which all occurred on Dec. 4, were:
- John Birbeck Invitational in Lacey
- Ed Arima Duals in Sumner
- Lady Jags Kickoff Tournament in Puyallup
- Yelm girls varsity in Yelm
Participants included a high school in Oregon and student athletes from Clark, Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, King, Kitsap, Lewis, Mason, Skagit, Snohomish, Pierce, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima counties.
Investigators have also identified additional wrestling tournaments that took place after Dec. 4 that may have led to transmission of the virus, Lindquist said. The DOH will receive daily updates on cases and sequencing results from local health jurisdictions.
Lindquist did not have an estimate for how many people participated in each tournament.
Photos and video from the events, he said, show a large number of people sitting in bleachers without masks on, despite masking requirements.
“It’s a good reminder to all of us going to public events in indoor arenas. We really ought to be wearing masks and doing some social distancing,” he said.
DOH recommends anyone who attended these tournaments to monitor for symptoms and get tested for the coronavirus. Local health jurisdictions are also likely to send out notifications to the affected schools with further guidance, DOH said.
According to DOH’s sports guidance, wrestling is considered a high-contact and high-risk sport, meaning there is sustained and sometimes face-to-face contact.
Universal masking is required indoors when not actively practicing or competing, according to DOH’s requirements for K-12 schools and sports. However, masks are not required for both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated athletes when competing indoors, as long as unvaccinated athletes are tested.
Testing for unvaccinated athletes in high-contact sports includes twice-a-week rapid antigen tests and tests on the day of competitions before entering the venue, according to DOH guidelines.
Outbreaks at high-contact indoor sports tournaments are not unheard of, Lindquist said. In 2017, the state saw a whooping cough outbreak due to a similar event, he said.
While health officials are considering revising coronavirus-related guidance in the face of a new highly transmissible variant, DOH has not recommended that any school district suspend their wrestling program, Lindquist said.
“This outbreak serves as a clear reminder that COVID-19 continues to spread in our communities. The best protection against it is to get vaccinated, and then for those 16 years and older to get a booster shot as soon as they are eligible,” DOH said in a news release Wednesday.
Have you attended a wrestling tournament in Washington state in December? Contact reporter Amanda Zhou at firstname.lastname@example.org.