People who pay attention to the news in Guilford County know well that COVID-19 outbreaks can take sports teams out of commission.

On Wednesday, Sept. 8, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced that, all across the state, the department is seeing “a sharp increase” in coronavirus clusters among school sports teams.

Between Thursday, July 1 and Thursday, Sept. 2, there were 42 documented athletics-related clusters in the state’s public, charter and private middle and high schools – with a jump in August when the school year started.

According to state officials, for the period between July 1 and Sept. 2, COVID-19 clusters among school sports teams accounted for 45 percent of all clusters in North Carolina middle and high schools. 

They note that that’s true despite the fact that most school sports activities didn’t begin until August.

They didn’t include elementary schools in the numbers because many don’t field sports teams.

State health officials are using the occasion to encourage everyone ages 12 and older to get vaccinated.

For the week ending Saturday, Sept. 4, children 17 and under made up nearly one-third of the state’s new COVID-19 cases.  NCDHHS noted that that’s the highest percentage since the pandemic began. 

At a Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting last week, county health officials spoke about their growing concern of the increasing number of youngsters testing positive for COVID-19.  Guilford County Schools has been trying to address the issue in its student populations, but some measures have resulted in a lot of displeased parents.

NCDHHS Chief Medical Officer and State Health Director. Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson stated in the September 8  press release that school athletes should get vaccinated.

“We need everyone, including our student athletes and their coaches, to increase layers of prevention to fight this more contagious Delta variant: Don’t wait to vaccinate and urge others to do the same,” she said.  “Tested, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are the best tool for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Student athletes who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine after a close contact with someone with COVID-19.”

There were only four athletics clusters recorded in July in the state.

While NCDHHS data can’t distinguish how school athletes became exposed in these clusters, past public health investigations conducted in other states have shown that spread among teammates often happens off the field – including the off the field time during practices.