Leading medical expert says some winter sports run greater covid risk than others

Saturday, January 9, 2021 | 6:00 AM

With a disclaimer, Dr. Amesh Adalja, a Pittsburgh-based infectious disease and critical care physician, said he is all for winter sports resuming in the WPIAL. He wants to see people active and living their normal lives again.

Adalja, who has discussed the effects of covid-19 and “dark days ahead” with media at the local and national level with rapidity since the upsurge in cases in Westmoreland, Allegheny and other counties across Pennsylvania, said there is no way to determine statistically if winter sports can work. He suggests schools proceed with caution.

“Obviously, some sports run a greater risk than others,” Adalja said. “As high school kids get older, their risk goes up for contracting (the virus) almost the same as adults. When you’re talking about sports like basketball and wrestling, yes, it’s going to be a challenge because of the close proximity of the athletes. With a sport like gymnastics, that might be a little safer because the athletes are somewhat spaced out.

“It’s going to be difficult due to the level of community spread. It would be better if there was testing like colleges and pros do, but high schools don’t do that.”

Adalja said officials are missing a larger picture as they attempt to proceed with games, meets and matches in the shadow of the pandemic.

“Schools aren’t opening,” Adalja said. “Kids can’t sit at a desk in school and learn math or algebra, but they can go wrestle with someone and learn a takedown move in a gymnasium? It doesn’t make sense. The priorities are all wrong.

“The PIAA shouldn’t be bragging about (fall) state championships; it should be bragging about SAT and ACT scores.”

Adalja said the spread is not happening in schools; it is happening during activities outside the classroom, when students leave school.

He said the ongoing surge of cases inundating hospitals, including Butler Memorial where he occasionally works, is a reflection of ill-advised gatherings. Sporting events, he said, can be one of those unwise gatherings, but they can happen if managed properly.

In a tweet, he said “people have to change their behavior to give hospitals the space to care.”

He said winter sports can happen, but, “they will likely see the virus intrude on their season.”

As for masks, the doctor said while they are not 100% effective, they should be worn during competition to reduce the spread of breath droplets in the air.

“They are not dangerous, the cloth masks they’re wearing,” he said. “They are not the N-95 masks. It could be hard for wrestling because they can dislodge. The masks do make it safer. But they should not give (athletes) a false sense of security. Some masks decrease the risks to a certain degree, but they don’t make (the virus) go away.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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