Cluster of coronavirus cases among college’s soccer teams highlights mitigation challenges: CDC

A cluster of coronavirus cases among members of a college’s men’s and women’s soccer teams who had been required to test negative for the illness before reporting to preseason this summer demonstrates the need for periodic repeat testing and improvement in messaging about social distancing and mask use, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. 

The college, which was not identified by name but is located in Chicago, required athletes to have two negative real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction coronavirus tests before participating in any preseason activities. Voluntary training sessions for both the men’s and women’s teams began in July, and in August, a member of the men’s team informed a coach he was experiencing COVID-19-related symptoms.

“The student reported attending several social gatherings with teammates in the preceding 14 days, including a birthday party and an unsanctioned soccer match between the men’s and women’s teams,” according to the report

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Over the next two days, five additional soccer players reported symptoms, and both teams were instructed to isolate or quarantine. Officials tested symptomatic players and anyone who had attended either the match or the birthday party. Nine tests out of 10 tests came back positive, and three days later four more players tested positive.

“After the university instructed both teams to test all members including asymptomatic persons, four additional players with SARS-CoV-2 infection were identified, for a total of 17,” according to the CDC report.

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Among those who tested positive, 11 reported experiencing symptoms, but none required hospitalization. All 17 players also said that they attended at least one of the 18 gatherings reported during the investigation period, which included visits to other dorms, an outdoor lake gathering, the birthday party and the coed soccer match.

The CDC said the birthday party, a visit to a dorm and the coed soccer match likely contributed to transmission “because they were attended by members of both teams and persons not on the teams.” Seven of the men’s team’s players who tested positive said they had attended the birthday party but did not wear masks or social distance for the majority of the time.

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“This outbreak highlights challenges to implementation of prevention strategies associated with persuading students at colleges and universities to adopts and adhere to recommended mitigation measures outside campus,” the CDC report said. “University protocols mandated mask use during training sessions, and coach staff members reported universal compliance. However, multiple students reported inconsistent mask use and social distancing at social gatherings, which quickly negated the benefits of pertaining testing, on-campus mask use, and social distancing prevention measures.”