(File Photo) The current number of students identified as close contacts of the infected students so far is estimated by the school to be 185 students — a number representing 37% of the student body of VHS.

(File Photo) The current number of students identified as close contacts of the infected students so far is estimated by the school to be 185 students — a number representing 37% of the student body of VHS.

Outbreaks on Vashon and beyond shine light on wrestling risks and rules

Multiple COVID-19 outbreaks have been traced to high school wrestling tournaments held on Dec. 4.

Note: This story has been updated from a version of the story published in the Dec. 16 issue of The Beachcomber titled, “New Cases at VHS shine light on sports risks and rules,” to include information about Washington’s Department of Health’s response to outbreaks linked to four wrestling tournaments held on Dec. 4.

Additional information on the covid outbreak at VHS, from VashonBePrepared, can be read here.

Vashon Island School District (VISD) is now in an ongoing and evolving response mode to an outbreak currently numbering 10 cases of COVID, with eight of the positive cases affecting members of the boys’ and girls’ high school wrestling teams.

The current number of students identified as close contacts of the infected students so far is estimated by the school to be 185 students — a number representing 37% of the student body of VHS that will rise as the newest cases are contact traced.

At mid-week in reaction to the rising case count, the school district quarantined the entire wrestling team from school, after consultation Vashon’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) on the quarantine decision.

Just last week, Vashon’s wrestlers were off to an exciting start in their season.

On Dec. 4, both the school teams traveled to two different multi-district tournaments.

The boys’ team headed to Auburn High School, where they competed with eight other teams from Auburn, Federal Way, and Issaquah.

The girls’ team attended an even bigger tournament, the Lady Jags Kickoff Tournament, at Emerald Ridge High School in Puyallup, which hosted 23 teams from throughout King and Pierce counties.

Both Vashon’s girls’ and boys’ teams did well that day, with the boys coming in third in Auburn, and two girls’ team members placing second and fourth in Emerald Ridge.

On Wednesday, Dec. 8, the boys’ team dominated at Cascade Christian, with a 39-18 win in that match.

The same day, the first wrestler tested positive, according to an email notification sent by the school district. By press time on Tuesday, seven more wrestlers and two of their close contacts had tested positive, and the decision had been made to quarantine the entire wrestling team from attending school in person.

Members of both the boys’ and girls’ teams have tested positive, said VISD superintendent Slade McSheehy.

Other outbreaks links to wrestling tournaments

On Wednesday, the Washington Department of Health (DOH), announced in a press release that multiple COVID-19 outbreaks had been traced to four high school wrestling tournaments held on Dec. 4.

The number of cases linked to these events is currently estimated to be between 80 and 90, with the investigation still ongoing and numbers expected to rise.

The impacted wrestling tournaments all happened on Dec. 4 and include John Birbeck Invitational, in Lacey; Ed Arima Duals, in Sumner; Lady Jags Kickoff Tournament, in Puyallup; and Yelm Girls Varsity, in Yelm.

The tournament attended by Vashon’s boys’ wrestling team was held in Auburn and is not on DOH’s list of affected tournaments; however, the one attended by the Vashon girls’ team, the Lady Jags Kickoff Tournament in Puyallup, is on the list.

Moreover, reporting from The Seattle Times about eight new cases of Omicron in Washington state, detailed that three of the eight Omicron cases were linked to the high school wrestling tournaments identified by DOH as locations of outbreaks. These three cases, they said, did not involve people living in King County.

In a phone interview on Monday, Auburn High School’s athletic director, Jon Price, said that he knew of no outbreaks at schools other than Vashon that had attended the tournament, and that none of his school’s athletes had tested positive for COVID following the tournament, or indeed during the entire school year.

Emerald Ridge High School athletic director Jesse Case, reached by phone, declined to comment on cases of COVID at his school or among his athletes or any other schools attending his tournament, citing privacy concerns.

Both athletic directors said they strictly enforced Department of Health (DOH) COVID-19 safety guidelines at their tournaments, including universal indoor masking for athletes who were not actively participating in either practices or competitions during the tournament.

The DOH press release about the COVID outbreaks linked to high school wrestling also emphasized this rule.

“COVID-19 prevention measures that are part of statewide K-12 requirements and sports guidance include consistent and proper mask-wearing,” the press release said. “These requirements state, ’ Universal masking is required indoors at all times when not actively practicing or competing.’”

However, a photo obtained by The Beachcomber that was taken during the tournament in Auburn shows 10 members of the Vashon team sitting side by side on the sidelines of a match, intently watching their teammate compete. All were unmasked. (The Beachcomber is not running the photo out of sensitivity to the student-athletes.)

On Monday morning, the Beachcomber shared the photo with McSheehy and a high school wrestling coach, requesting an explanation of the apparent violation of state masking requirements.

In an email at 4:30 p.m., McSheehy responded to the inquiry.

​​”We have high expectations for student safety and will use this recent outbreak as an opportunity for all VISD athletic programs to review our WIAA COVID-19 safety protocols and ensure we are consistent in implementation and in compliance,” he wrote.

Vashon’s wrestling program, now on pause, is expected to resume after the school’s winter break.

Wrestling considered a high-risk sport

According to DOH guidelines, wrestling is considered a high-risk school sport and as such has additional requirements than sports deemed to be lower risk.

Schools must institute screening testing protocols for unvaccinated athletes, coaches, trainers, and other personnel who work with athletes in high-risk indoor sports. This screening testing must be performed twice weekly, first with a rapid antigen test either the day before or the day of the competition, and then again three to four days prior to or after the competition. The second test can be performed with either a molecular or antigen test.

Fully vaccinated athletes do not have to participate in screening testing.

McSheehy did not reply to an inquiry from The Beachcomber, asking if all of Vashon’s wrestlers were vaccinated.

The guidelines further stipulate that masks — while required indoors when athletes are not practicing or competing — are not required for fully vaccinated athletes when they are practicing or competing in high-risk indoor sports; nor are they required for unvaccinated athletes practicing or competing in high-risk indoor sports if they participate in screening testing.

DOH issues advice for those who attended affected tournaments

DOH advises those who attended the tournaments identified as linked to outbreaks as follows:

• Anyone who attended these events as a participant, coach, official, support staff, or spectator should monitor for symptoms and get tested for COVID-19.

• Anyone with symptoms or who tests positive should stay home from work, school, childcare or social activites.

• 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. Children between the ages of 5 and 11 are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine and should start their two-shot series immediately.

The press release from DOH also said that a team of DOH epidemiologists, in collaboration with local health jurisdiction epidemiologists, is working on gathering more information about these events and the corresponding COVID-19 cases.

Department of Health requirements for COVID safety in K-12 public education, including school sports, can be found at tinyurl.com/6he73xfm.

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