Parents and students expressed frustration about a recent suspension of wrestling events in Washington state as the Clark County Board of Health said they can’t push back on recommendations from the state.
During a special meeting on Dec. 21, the county’s board of health — which is made up of members of the Clark County Council — heard from Clark County Public Health Director Alan Melnick about a statewide COVID-19 outbreak that has led to dozens of cases locally.
As of the meeting, Melnick said more than 350 cases had been linked to wrestling tournaments statewide. On Dec. 13, Clark County Public Health was notified by the state health department of outbreaks in multiple counties linked to four tournaments on Dec. 4, he said.
By the time of the meeting, Melnick said seven schools in the area had 37 confirmed cases among their wrestling teams. They included Prairie and Battle Ground high schools, as well as La Center and View Ridge middle schools. In the past two weeks seven events were identified in the outbreak, including meets at Columbia River, a meet between Battle Ground High School and Prairie High School, and an invitational at La Center on Dec. 11.
Melnick said photos and videos from the events showed masking requirements and physical distancing were not followed.
Updated guidance from the state health department on Dec. 17 recommended testing of all athletes, coaches, trainers and support personnel involved in wrestling, basketball, water polo and competitive cheer, regardless of vaccination status. Testing recommendations were increased to three times a week and no sooner than the day before competition.
Melnick said the health department provided recommendations — not mandates — regarding the outbreaks. He said schools with identified cases should pause all wrestling activities until all close contacts were identified.
“We did not make these recommendations lightly. We know how important these activities are for the youth,” Melnick said.
As of the meeting, Melnick said there were at least two cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in the county related to wrestling tournaments. He said there is concern that the omicron variant is more likely to re-infect those who had previously contracted the disease. He said there was no evidence the variant led to less severe illness compared to other variants.
Dozens of members of the public voiced their concerns over the outbreak at the meeting. Opinions ranged from those supporting the county’s caution over the situation to those in opposition of restrictions on youth sporting events. There was so much testimony that the board of health cut the meeting short before all participants had a turn to speak, though those who weren’t able to testify were encouraged to provide written testimony. More than 100 pages of written testimony was collected.
Councilor Gary Medvigy said the county was not the authority who made the decision to suspend sporting events.
“The public should know that we have no authority to overrule the school districts’ decision,” Medvigy said, noting he takes the opinions of parents seriously.
“All these parents’ concerns are valid and should be heard and digested by the leadership that are elected in the schools,” Medvigy said.
Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien agreed that the county’s hands are tied with regards to mandates at the state level.
“We can only do more, we cannot do less,” about restrictions, Quiring O’Brien said.
The Clark County Board of Health asked for an update on the suspension and virus outbreak at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Jan. 4. The update could also take place during council time on Jan. 5.