Wrestling seasons paused after massive COVID outbreak

Indoor wrestling events where public health guidelines 'not being followed' led to over 200 infections

Clark County high school athletic directors have decided to pause their school’s wrestling seasons until Monday, Jan. 3, as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak among local grapplers.

Clark County Public Health officials have recommended that local school districts suspend all competition, practice sessions and travel due to a surge of positive cases linked to several tournaments held at several high schools in Western Washington earlier this month.

“By pausing wrestling activities for two weeks, we hope to interrupt virus transmission and slow the spread of COVID-19 within the wrestling teams and the community,” Clark County Public Health stated in a Dec. 16 Facebook post.

The Washougal High School boys wrestling team’s match against the Washougal River Rumble, scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 30, is canceled.

‘A ton of people in indoor spaces, crowded into bleachers, not wearing masks’

Clark County Public Health director Alan Melnick told the Clark County Board of Health on Dec. 21, that more than 200 cases of COVID-19 are connected to a statewide outbreak among high school wrestlers and that local health officials have identified 37 cases among athletes and coaches at seven Clark County schools.

Clark County Public Health officials said last week they were continuing to work with local school districts to investigate COVID-19 cases among local athletes and coaches on Clark County high school wrestling teams.

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) announced Dec. 15, that the cases had been traced back to wrestling tournaments held Dec. 4, in Lacey, Sumner, Puyallup and Yelm. Those events involved wrestlers from 13 Washington counties, including Clark. Camas and Washougal wrestlers competed in the girls wrestling event held in Yelm.

“This is an early, ongoing investigation,” Washington State Department of Health epidemiologist Scott Lindquist said during a news conference on Dec. 15. “I have a sense it’s going to be very large and I have a sense that omicron is going to play a big role in this. … This would be considered a very large outbreak. This does not bode well. Really, the icing on this cake is these (cases) are turning out at least some percentage of the omicron variant that is much, much more infectious.”

Lindquist also said that the outlook for the Mat Classic state wrestling tournaments, scheduled to be held in February at the Tacoma Dome, “doesn’t look good.”

The Department of Health and Clark County health officials will determine whether recommendations should be updated as the omicron variant intensifies, especially for high-contact, indoor sports events, Lindquist said.

“I looked at some of the pictures and videos of these events, and there were a ton of people in indoor spaces, crowded into bleachers, not wearing masks,” Lindquist said. “I can say pretty clearly that, no, guidance was not being followed. We would really hope that anyone who was at one of these events — because transmission is so likely with this new variant — gets tested.”

New requirements for high-contact, indoor winter sports

Washington state public health officials announced new health and safety requirements for high-contact indoor winter sports on Dec. 17.

Under the new requirements, all athletes, coaches and other personnel for basketball, wrestling, competitive cheer and water polo must complete COVID-19 testing three times per week, regardless of vaccination status. One test must be conducted at least 24 hours before a contest. Previous guidance called for unvaccinated athletes to be tested twice per week.

“Omicron is a game-changer, but we know layered prevention measures slow the spread of COVID-19 in sports, schools, and communities,” Lacy Fehrenbach, the state’s deputy secretary for COVID-19 response, stated in a news release. “Please get vaccinated, boosted, wear a well-fitting mask and maintain your distance to help our kids stay healthy, stay in the game and stay in school.”

The Post-Record had not heard back from Washougal athletic director Gary McGarvie or Camas athletic director Rory Oster in time for this newspaper’s deadline. Washougal girls wrestling coach Heather Carver declined to comment.