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Maricopa County expecting 800 youth sports teams in the Valley, warns about COVID-19 outbreaks

Health experts have linked COVID-19 outbreaks to youth sports tournaments and games.

PHOENIX — Maricopa County is expecting nearly 800 youth sports teams to come to the Valley to play against each other this weekend in the midst of a spike of coronavirus cases in Arizona.

Marcy Flanagan, executive director of Maricopa County Public Health, brought up the issue Thursday during a press conference.

“We have several outbreaks that we have identified that we have associated with club sports and clubs sporting events,” Flanagan said.

ASU researchers said they too are seeing the same pattern Flanagan fears.

“You’ll see a lot of people gathering together on the sidelines chatting away often without masks on and inevitably we see cases come back from that,” Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the ASU Biodesign Institute, said.

Shawn McConnell with Funkalicious Beach Ball said they hosted an adult tournament in Rocky Point back on the first weekend of November, implementing COVID-19 precautions where they could.

“We made every conscientious attempt because we take the virus seriously,” McConnell said.

The courts were in the open air on the beach, masks were worn off the court, and temperatures were taken.

“It was small pockets in pods of people together,” McConnell said. “It was not one mass gathering in a room like a rally, it wasn’t indoors, it was outdoors in a tent here in a Palapa there.”

McConnell said 13 people have told him they’ve since tested positive for the virus.

He said six of those people were staying in a condo together and two other pairs did the same.

The other three people don’t have a common denominator.

“We’re not happy that anybody got it,” McConnell said.

McConnell said he still wonders whether the precautions will ever be enough.

“We do, on a weekly basis, wrestle with this question about whether anything regarding group sports, no matter how much care you take, is right or wrong,” McConnell said.

Flanagan said there are ways the events can be safe.

“Is there a safe way for our students to be involved in physical activity? There are, and there is a safe way for that to happen. Is that happening at all of these tournaments? From reports that we're hearing it’s not happening at all these tournaments,” Flanagan said.

Issuing a warning to mask up and spread out.

“Having these events not socially distanced and not wearing masks is how we end up with increases we’re seeing,” Flanagan said.

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