Doctors say B.1.1.7 variant and team sports causing rise in youth COVID-19 cases

NOW: Doctors say B.1.1.7 variant and team sports causing rise in youth COVID-19 cases

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said COVID-19 is spreading in youth team sports more than in the classroom, especially in teams not wearing masks. CDC officials have also said highly contagious variants like B.1.1.7 are playing a part in the increases.

Area doctors say there are more unknowns with how B.1.1.7 is impacting contagiousness in kids, with evidence now just starting to come out. They say you want to be especially cautious with kids.

“There appears to be more of a preponderance for younger children with the B.1.1.7 variant,” said Dr. Ben Weston, associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and medical director at Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.

Dr. Weston says kids were fairly protected with the conventional variant, adding there weren’t many cases and most children didn’t get severely ill, but he says it’s different with B.1.1.7.  

“We’re seeing in certain states, clusters of young children getting infected, not necessarily severely, but getting infected and continuing to spread in the communities,” adds Dr. Weston.

“We’ve had bumps in the road in many of our sports, with hitting the pause button on scheduled games and so forth throughout the seasons, however we brought them through completion,” said Todd Clark, director of communications for the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.

In guidance to schools, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association says the majority of COVID-19 spread doesn't come from sports participation itself, but from the social contact aspect. Clark says WIAA will continue to maintain the mask mandate and keep the same protocol they’ve had since the fall season, but they do know of other leagues and tournaments that do not require masks or have COVID-19 regulations.

“I think if everybody would do the same things the WIAA is doing, then I think the view of it might be a little bit different knowing that we are taking these precautions,” Clark says.

“Certainly when you go from a very protected space like the classroom to a less protected space, whatever that is, whether it’s social gatherings, whether it’s perhaps certain types of sports, there may be more risk of infection,” Dr. Weston said.

State data show since mid-January a majority of weekly positive cases were made up of kids under the age of 18, with kids ages 9 to 17 being affected the most. With vaccine eligibility now opened up to 16 and older, the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association encourages teens to get vaccinated.

“It’s an individual choice, it’s a parental choice, but as far as I’m concerned, I think that you know, the more people you get vaccinated, the better off you’re going to be,” said Jerry Petitgoue, executive director of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association.

In the case of whether vaccines would be required of student athletes 16 and older, Clark says those conversations would have to take place at the local level.

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