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Kids' Sports Are Causing Coronavirus Superspreader Events

As COVID-19 threatens to sideline college football and high school winter sports, new data shows a pattern of coronavirus spread beyond the sidelines — among friends and family in the stands.

Scientists have established the roles political rallies, restaurants, religious services and gyms play in large-scale coronavirus spread. Now, recent contact tracing data adds children's sporting events to the roster.

"These events where kids get together outdoors and families sit around and chat together. We've seen a lot of cases emerging from these sort of sporting events. So I would be certainly worried about those," said Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign institute at Arizona State University.

LaBaer endorses testing, but warns against letting negative results breed overconfidence. Several days can pass after exposure before coronavirus becomes detectable.

He also cautioned against relying on rapid antigen tests, which can provide results in around 15 minutes but are far less sensitive than the "gold standard" RT-PCR tests offered at most testing sites.

"In the best of circumstances, in a symptomatic individual, that test is maybe 85% sensitive. That means that it'll miss it 15% of the time, even if it's there," said LaBaer.

He added that antigen test results may perform worse among patients who don't have symptoms.

COVID-19 is now Arizona's third deadliest disease, behind cancer and heart disease. At its present pace, the virus could bring the state's death toll to 7,000 by early December.

"The curves are definitely trending in that direction, and it's pretty hard to stop it. Those numbers have been rising since this all started, so I don't know that we can escape those numbers," said LaBaer.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.