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Polk County Pauses Sports After 50 Student-Athletes Infected With Coronavirus

Winter high school sports, including basketball, are being suspended until at least Jan. 4 in Polk County after a recent outbreak of coronavirus.
Winter high school sports, including basketball, are being suspended until at least Jan. 4 in Polk County after a recent outbreak of coronavirus.

An outbreak of coronavirus among student-athletes in Polk County has forced school officials to temporarily stop all youth sports, officials said Tuesday.

Symptoms began to appear among wrestlers a few days after a tournament that included nine teams from different schools, the county's athletic director said.

"We had basically an alarming amount of cases from one event that has now seemed to spread amongst other schools,” Polk County senior coordinator of athletics Dan Talbot said during a Zoom press conference.

"Every school but one ended up with a positive case and we had 24 positive cases from one event, which was significantly higher than anything we've seen during the fall sports."

Since last week, the number of cases has grown to include more than 50 student-athletes. Cheerleaders, basketball and soccer players, and weight lifters are now among those who were infected.

Talbot said seven different teams were quarantined over the weekend.

He said student-athletes are required to wear masks except when they are directly participating in their sport.

"We're happy with the protocols. Can we get better? Absolutely. And we will get better," said Talbot.

Polk County has 1,660 student athletes at 14 high schools participating in winter sports.

Practices and games are suspended until at least January 4, 2021. Talbot said he’ll speak with the county’s athletic directors on that day.

“The idea is to understand that this is a pause, and practice will resume on January 4, and that's the important thing — that the student-athletes have a day to look forward to,” he said.

Two schools that took part in the wrestling tournament were from outside Polk County. Talbot said officials have spoken to those school districts, and believe that one non-Polk County student-athlete has tested positive since the tournament.

“I've gotten some text messages from other counties that are saying we're probably not far behind you. It's always interesting to see what happens when you're the first domino to fall, if other counties (will pause sports),” he said. “I have no idea (what they’re doing), I just worry about our student-athletes in Polk County.”

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Kerry Sheridan is a reporter and co-host of All Things Considered at WUSF Public Media.
Mark Schreiner has been the producer and reporter for "University Beat" on WUSF 89.7 FM since 2001 and on WUSF TV from 2007-2017.