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Polk Reducing Attendance Limits At High School Events

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The CDC recently issued a study on a Mulberry High wrestling tournament that turned into a coronavirus superspreader event and led to one death.

Polk County public schools announced a pause in athletics in December, days after a wrestling tournament turned into a superspreader event that was recently cited in a CDC study.

On Wednesday, the county announced it would limit attendance at athletic events for the remainder of the school year in an effort to help slow the spread of disease.

Currently, attendance at athletic events is capped at 50 percent. Beginning Feb. 1, attendance will be further reduced depending on venue.

“The pandemic continues to pose a very serious health risk. At this time, it’s the right call to reduce attendance at our athletics events to help protect our students, staff and spectators,” Dan Talbot, the distruct's senior coordinator of athletics, said in a statement.

Talbot said schools were already taking steps to ensure family members are able to attend games.

“We know how important athletics are to our students and their families. Our athletic directors are working incredibly hard to make sure families can attend the games,” Talbot said.

The district continues to monitor coronavirus cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the wrestling tournament as a cautionary example of how things can go wrong.

The event was held at Mulberry High, and involved involved 10 schools from three counties. Two schools were from outside Polk County. Symptoms began to appear among wrestlers a few days after a tournament.

"We had basically an alarming amount of cases from one event that has now seemed to spread amongst other schools,” Talbot said in December during a Zoom press conference.

The CDC study, issued this week, connected the event to at least 79 cases among coaches, referees, wrestlers and their contacts at home and at school. One contact over 50 died from COVID-19. According to published reports, the deceased person was a 55-year-old guidance office employee at Mulberry High.

The CDC concluded that high-contact sports where mask-wearing and physical distancing are not possible should be postponed while COVID-19 rages in the area.

WMFE reporter Joe Byrnes contributed to this report.