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Clark County health officials hold special meeting on school wrestling suspension related to COVID outbreaks

Following guidance from county health officials, school districts put wrestling programs on pause for two weeks — a decision that left many parents upset.

CLARK COUNTY, Wash. — Health officials recommended a pause on school wrestling programs after hundreds of COVID-19 cases were linked to tournaments in Washington state. Last week, school districts in Clark County took the advice of the county health officer, suspending the sport until Jan. 3, 2022. 

However, many found this decision to be unfair and called into a special Board of Health meeting on Tuesday morning during an hour of public comment. Many parents told the county they were frustrated and upset at the recommendation. 

Dr. Alan Melnick, health officer for Clark County, announced at the meeting that state health leaders now estimate more than 350 COVID cases stemmed from multiple school wrestling tournaments across the state earlier this month, up from the 200 cases previously reported to be linked to those events. 

RELATED: 200 COVID cases now linked to high school wrestling events in Washington state

Currently in Clark County, Public Health reports 37 COVID-19 cases among wrestling teams at seven schools, including both vaccinated and unvaccinated members and coaches. Dr. Melnick said those numbers are slated to increase.

"Given what we were seeing and concerned about omicron, the idea was to interrupt the virus transmission occurring within the teams and prevent the outbreaks from spreading into the schools or the community," he said. "We certainly have and continue to recognize and appreciate the importance of athletics and other extracurricular activities for Clark County youth. We did not make these recommendations lightly."

However, many callers — mainly parents — felt differently and expressed that the sport was being unfairly shut down. 

The Board of Health, comprised of the county council, did not take any action during the meeting. 

According to County Manager Kathleen Otto, the council decided to have a special Board of Health meeting to hear an update from Public Health Director Dr. Melnick on the statewide COVID outbreak from wrestling tournaments that has impacted Clark County schools as well as provide an opportunity for community members to provide public testimony. 

In a statement she wrote, "To be clear, no decision was made by the Board of Health or Dr. Melnick. Rather, Dr. Melnick made a recommendation to pause wrestling until January 3. The school districts made the decision to pause wrestling. The Board of Health has no authority over the school districts’ decisions."

Because of this, she said it's up to the school districts, which have the authority to reverse a wrestling suspension. 

Otto explained, at a minimum, the county is required to follow all mandates that come from the state of Washington or the federal government. Any agency can implement stricter guidelines.

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