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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 was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ from 2016 to 2024.