By Caroline Cummings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota health officials recently updated their guidance on youth sports so that masks are no longer required while practicing or competing outdoors. But some parents, student athletes and coaches say inconsistency looms over the protocols and they want some flexibility.

Carson Deichman, a senior swimmer at Mankato West High School, recalled a time when he was exposed to COVID-19 in March. He told a Senate committee during an informational hearing on Monday that he was informed of an exposure in the classroom while wearing a mask less than two weeks before the state championship swim meet.

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He said he had two negative tests and tried to still compete in the swim meet if he could, which fell on day 11 of the 14-day quarantine, since it would’ve been the last swim competition of his high school career.

“Meanwhile on March 14, three days before the Minnesota State High School swim meet, the date I was not allowed to swim on quarantine day 11, Gov. Walz had decided to quarantine because of an exposure just like mine,” Deichman told lawmakers. “But the governor chose to quarantine for only 10 days. If he’d applied the same rules to me as he applied to himself, I could’ve swam in the state meet.”

Guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control continues to endorse 14-day quarantines, but has options to reduce quarantine from 14 days to 10 days without testing if the person has no symptoms and end quarantine on day seven if the person has tested negative with no symptoms.

In Minnesota, health officials also recommend 14-day quarantine after exposure, according to its COVID-19 sports recommendations, but allows teams and organizations discretion to let players observe abbreviated quarantine restrictions if they meet certain criteria.

(credit: CBS)

Deichman’s comments echo those of other students, parents and coaches who say there isn’t uniformity across schools following the Minnesota Department of Health’s guidelines, creating confusion.

The MDH guidance still “strongly” recommends wearing masks while actively playing, though it’s no longer a requirement. State officials encourage weekly testing at schools and of student athletes.

“I heard there was a girls soccer game scheduled and the one team was advised to wear masks outside for the entire event. The other team was told they didn’t,” said Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. “So you had one time literally running around in masks on a field playing soccer and the other team was not. Anybody with common sense would understand that there are a lot of problems here and it didn’t make any sense.”

The debate over coronavirus restrictions and youth sports has been ongoing for months, marked by legislative hearings like this on Monday and even lawsuits to try to block enforcement of certain rules. Until the updated MDH guidance Friday, health officials in Minnesota have doubled down on wearing masks during sports at all times.

But what Minnesotans pushing back on the guidance say they want is more evidence that COVID being spread during sports. The Minnesota Department of Health previously identified least one outbreak of the B.1.1.7. variant to sporting events in Carver County, which officials linked to 68 confirmed cases.

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Jan Malcolm, commissioner of the department, noted on Monday that there have been some investigations linking spread to sports and games, but not every case can be analyzed with such depth. The department informs its decisions based on CDC recommendations and data, she said.

She also told lawmakers that sports activities fit the profile of “what is heightened risk for transmission” considering what scientists and public health officials know about the coronavirus

“Engaged in activities that have of exertion and heavier breathing, given the role of airborne transmission particularly indoors, that’s what kind of leads to this concern to begin with [and] leads to the CDC quarantine guidance which is what our guidance is based on,” Malcom said. “It isn’t always only about knowing that you’ve had a case, it’s about the transmission risks in the environment that just are just inherent in that environment.”

Republicans on the committee pointed to a study by the University of Wisconsin last fall that attributed only one case to actual participation in sports of the more than 200 athletes in the survey who contracted COVID.

Top Minnesota health official says student cases in schools rising, express concern over more infectious variant

Malcolm also told the committee Monday that confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students is on the rise, nearing levels only previously seen during the fall 2020 peak. Teacher infections, she said, have stabilized, likely as a result of the impact of vaccinations.

(credit: MDH)

Children ages 16 and 17 are the only kids approved for immunization, and the FDA has only approved the Pfizer vaccine for use.

The cases in schools are linked to the more infectious variant first discovered in the U.K., which is a source of concern, Malcolm said.

“We’ve all been watching Michigan as really kind of the bellwether,” she said. “Like us, they have a lot of B117 and we’ve been watching how our case trends compared to theirs. Most recently, they’ve seen a record high level of hospitalizations for children.”

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A Minnesota first-grader died of complications due to COVID-19, school leaders confirmed Monday.

Caroline Cummings