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Health officials say COVID-19 case increase may be linked to youth sports

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(WAOW) -- As COVID cases continue increasing, health officials are now seeing a worrying increase in cases among those 18 and younger.

"We are seeing more cases in younger people as a proportion of all our cases," said Dr. Ryan Westergaard, chief medical officer with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The CDC says youth sporting events and extracurriculars are allowing COVID to spread more easily among children.

In Minnesota, the UK variant spread through one county where at least 68 cases were linked to youth sporting events, according to officials.

While there haven't been reports of an outbreak at a Wisconsin sporting event, DHS officials say the trend is still happening here.

"This week and last week, people under the age of 18 have the highest number of cases," Westergaard said.

It's for reasons like this that districts like Stevens Point chose to change their sports schedules.

"We've been very fortunate to not have situations especially recently where we've had to shut teams down," said spokesperson Sarah O'Donnell.

She says it's a balancing act to make sure students get the opportunity to participate in extracurriculars during this time.

"Trying to be a little bit more creative in both how we showcase and how we have students participate to try to make sure that we're not causing additional concern," she said.

It may be easier for some activities than others.

"We know that if children are playing sports, its best if they do it a. outside, b. wearing masks, and c. social distancing as much as possible, which we know is easier in some sports than other sports," said Julie Willems Van Dijk, DHS deputy secretary.

In a press conference, Governor Evers commended schools making efforts to stay safe and wear masks even without the statewide mandate. He said those districts who had decided not to require masks were making a "huge mistake."

Natalie Sopyla

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