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MDH is reporting COVID-19 outbreaks among hockey and basketball players ahead of the winter season

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In an update from the Minnesota State High School League board of directors Tuesday, the Department of Health said it sees the spread of COVID-19 among two indoor winter sports in particular.

Those sports, basketball and hockey, are indoor sports where COVID-19 spread was noticed after players traveled from the state to play this summer.

Senior epidemiologist Jane Griffith of the Department of Health told executives on Tuesday that a very large outbreak of COVID-19 was discovered among AAU basketball players. The outbreak infected at least 52 Minnesota athletes within and across teams in the state.

As far as Griffith’s team could tell, the outbreak started after teams traveled to a tournament in Iowa in mid-July. Upon their return, they continued to play without symptoms in Minnesota every weekend but spread the virus to their communities and at those tournaments.

Griffith said the big breakout was “not too surprising to us,” given that basketball is played indoors.

Likewise, Griffith said her team also noticed “quite a bit of transmission” among hockey players this summer. The state has largely investigated middle-aged players, but said “hockey is causing a fair number of major outbreaks” in the state.

In the high school age group, 13 outbreaks were reported, affecting between two and seven players of any age.

Griffith pointed to a particularly large outbreak in central Minnesota that appears to have been started by a hockey player who had no state education and returned to his community and started socializing. A community outbreak ensued, of which the health department was “ pretty sure ” introduced to the community by that athlete, Griffith said.

The Department of Health said closer contact and high effort sports, such as basketball and hockey, are more risky for spreading COVID-19 than individual or contactless sports.

Griffith pointed out, however, that travel and the fact that both sports are practiced indoors both played a big part.

“There is a clear and strong argument that local play is preferable to travel,” Griffith said in her presentation at MSHSL.

Later, when asked about sports that move indoors during the colder months and how that might affect high school competition, Griffith said to expect a spike.

“We will see the number of cases increasing as minnesotans generally move indoors, but also in sports as we see more indoor sports,” she said.

Griffith and her team recommended sports to exercise as much as possible outside to reduce the spread.

Here’s how other sports the MDH studied this summer fared:

Baseball / Softball – Five reported outbreaks of two or three cases each.

Football / Strength Training – Five reported outbreaks of three to seven cases each.

Football – 10 outbreaks of two to five cases per outbreak. At least 98 positive cases.

Volleyball – Four total outbreaks with two to four cases each.

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