The team and its trainers have been quarantined. Contact tracers in Anne Arundel County reached out to families every day to check for possible symptoms. When the quarantine was over, Mulhern breathed a sigh of relief. Nobody else on the team was infected with the virus.
The young player, who was asymptomatic, was one of 39 people associated with youth sports in Anne Arundel County who tested positive for the virus this fall. These infections triggered quarantine orders for 804 athletes and coaches.
With the number of cases rising in the region, district officials decided earlier this month to end youth sports. This step will be taken more often when a second wave of the coronavirus spreads across the country.
For months, parents, coaches and health officials in the region and across the country have been struggling with the risk of young athletes entering the field or playing field in the middle of a pandemic. They know that exercise promotes a child’s physical and mental well-being, teaches teamwork, and develops social skills. However, you are wondering whether the risks are worth it – even with security logs in place.
“We think exercise is important, especially for children, and we want to do it safely, but we also recognize that there are risk factors,” said Anne Arundel’s health officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman.
Kalyanaraman said that contact tracers found an average of 22 people in contact with every infected person associated with youth sports in the county. Everyone was advised to quarantine. The county had no data on whether teammates or coaches of the infected people were also infected with the virus. But Kalyanaraman said the sheer number of contacts was “overwhelming for our ability to track contacts.”
“We just saw more cases in teams and more quarantines,” he said. “We felt it was time to act.”
Jurisdictions across the Washington area and across the country have had different views on what is allowed for traveling sports clubs, recreational programs, and high school teams. In North Dakota, a coronavirus hot spot, the governor signed an order this month to suspend winter sports until December 14th. Virginia allows sports but limits audience numbers to less than 30 percent at one venue or 25 per field and requires screening trainers and officials, staff and players for Covid-19 symptoms. In the district, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said this week that she would soon announce new guidelines for contact sports.
And in Maryland, winter sports practices are scheduled to begin on December 7th. The games are scheduled for early January, although counties and cities – like Anne Arundel – can opt out. Counties Howard and Baltimore have also discontinued youth sports. Counties of Montgomery and Prince George have restrictions on contact level. For example, golf is considered low risk and can be played, but football and basketball are considered high risk and are prohibited.
The different rules have led some youth coaches and teams to resort to “county shopping” as some coaches have called it – looking for a jurisdiction near their home where games can be played without much control.
Coaches and parents in Counties Prince George, Montgomery and Anne Arundel know they know of teams that traveled to Counties Cecil or Harford to play earlier this year, for example. Mulhern said he knew of a New Jersey youth baseball team that used a field in Harford County because gaming was restricted in their home state.
“While we are not allowing youth sports travel teams to come to Montgomery County, we cannot rule out the possibility of them leaving the county,” said Earl Stoddard, head of emergency management in Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction.
Montgomery revoked a big boy’s soccer tournament permit after a Pennsylvania girl who had competed in a county girls’ tournament a week earlier tested positive for the virus. More than 3,000 people attended the girls’ tournament, Stoddard said. He did not know how many people had contact with the infected girl.
Health experts say the threat from youth sports isn’t just about contact during play or training that safety protocols can address. It’s also the carpooling and post-gaming lunches where teens may not be following the rules of distancing.
“They are going home,” said Kalyanaraman of the players. “And you can pass it on to someone else. That is the core problem. “
Months before Mulhern received the call about the positive case in his league, he was one of 100 people who protested outside the governor’s mansion urging Governor Larry Hogan (R) to resume youth sports in Maryland. Hogan did this in May.
Mulhern said he disagreed with Anne Arundel’s decision to stop youth sports. He doesn’t regret trying to resume the game.
He recently said he had asked his children’s pediatrician if he was an “idiot or an overzealous parent” to allow youth sports. The doctor, he said, told him: “Children have to be children.”
Mulhern said he is concerned about the consequences kids will have this year if they don’t exercise. His son eats more and spends more time playing video games. “It’s a dynamic change,” he said.
Angela Hansberry and her husband Paul had more than a few debates this summer over whether their 16-year-old son Amani would be returning to Team Durant in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League when restrictions were lifted in Maryland.
“When they said it was time to return, I said, ‘Oh no, this won’t be fine,” said Silver Spring’s mother. “I wasn’t on board. It seemed like the mothers were on one side and the Fathers on the other side of the spectrum. “
In June, when the team started practicing, Angela Hansberry couldn’t resist the glimmer of excitement in her son’s eyes. She agreed that he could play even though she was almost obsessed with tracking down the virus and her own efforts to constantly spray Lysol on surfaces and in the air to keep infection away from her home.
“I really was one of those mothers. I don’t even know the term to myself, ”she said. “I had the app on my phone. I would look at the cases every day. Ask me and I could tell you how many people were in the hospital. “
One day – when her son hugged her after she returned home from training and she winced – Hansberry decided she needed to calm down. “It was hard,” she said with a pause. “It’s still difficult. . . You just learn to try to put your trust in your church. “
She and her husband considered allowing Amani to go to Nevada for a tournament. The team planned to rent a house and bring food so the players wouldn’t go out. Then the falls began to come to a head. Paul Hansberry said the team’s fathers started texting each other. The mothers did too.
The coach eventually decided to cancel the trip and later organized an eight-week tournament in Virginia with teams along the Interstate 95 corridor.
The pandemic first hit the region in March, when the Maryland Heat Youth Football program was about to begin spring practice. Everything shut down quickly.
When restrictions were lifted and guidelines put in place, teams at the Prince George’s County-based program began training in pods of 10 spread across eight different fields, coach Terrence Byrd said. They practiced in Virginia most weekends. Byrd said another challenge is to find a field where they can play their games.
In a normal year, the only players who traveled from the state were those who played on the 14-year-old team. That year, Byrd rallied many of the program’s 250 children to play games in West Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.
“It was a big commitment. . . A long season for me, ”Byrd said, remembering drives that were six hours. “It was a lot for everyone, including my volunteer coaches. Everyone accepted it. . . The children looked forward to what they had in terms of social interaction. “
But some parents are just not ready to take the risk. Bowie’s Adrion Howell said his 14-year-old daughter Aaliyah misses playing volleyball with her travel club – mostly because she can’t see her teammates and hang out with them.
“It’s hard to protect the kids when they’re inside,” he said. “There aren’t many ways to distance yourself socially or wear masks.”
Howell said he was open to allowing Aaliyah to play if adequate security measures are in place. But right now he doesn’t see how that will happen.
“I don’t know, I’m just worried about safety,” he said. “I don’t want these children and adults to be exposed. They have coaches and referees out there too. “