St. Louis County health officials defend sports ban

Associated Press
The Rolla Daily News

ST. LOUIS — A ban on some high school sports will continue in St. Louis County until the number of coronavirus cases in the county is reduced and in-person education can resume, health officials said Friday.

St. Louis County's ban announced Sept. 9 on some moderate-contact and high-contact sports — particularly football — prompted protests and an unsuccessful attempt to take away pandemic-related power from County Executive Sam Page and the health department.

On Friday, Rockwood School District inadvertently issued a memo indicating that superintendent Mark Miles authorized district athletic directors to begin scheduling games for moderate and high-frequency contact sports outside of the county, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Moderate-contact sports include boys soccer, girls volleyball, field hockey and softball, with football as a high-contact sport.

High-contact sports carry a significant risk of transmission of the virus to players, who can then infect their families, friends and the community, county health officials said in a news release Friday.

The health department said if had documented five clusters of transmissions in the county linked to high school sports practices or games, and identified more than 20 high school student-athletes who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in recent weeks, although it was not clear if those cases came from sports or social activities.

The department noted that football teams at Herculaneum High School and Jefferson R7 High School in Jefferson County are under quarantine after several members of the Herculaneum team tested positive for coronavirus. 

More than 600 students and staff at St. Louis County schools have been quarantined because of potential exposures, all while no games are being played in high-contact sports, the department said.

"Until community transmission in St. Louis County is reduced and until we can recommend that high schools return to in-person education, we cannot recommend resumption of games in high-contact high school sports," the health department said. "All of these decisions have been — and will continue to be — driven by public health department data and lived experience."

The announcement came on the same day the St. Louis County parks department announced playgrounds in county parks will reopen Monday.

The parks reopened May 18, but playgrounds were off limits. Starting Monday, the department will disinfect its 55 playgrounds several times a week and masks will be required, except for children who are playing.