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Crowded high school football games raise COVID-19 concerns for doctor

Pediatrician describes situations which draw hundreds of spectators as ’super-spreader events’

GLEN SAINT MARY, Fla. – The first Florida high school football games kicked-off Friday night and in the struggle to curb the spread of COVID-19, many area schools appeared to be playing weak defense, according to a local pediatrician.

Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, Chief of Community and Societal Pediatrics at UF Health, described the Baker County High School game against the visiting Bradford High School as a “super spreader event.”

“Those individuals are at higher risk for spreading the disease, both within Baker County and outside Baker County,” Goldhagen said. “It was an irresponsible response to the COVID-19 epidemic.”

Tickets to the game were sold out by half-time, according to the Facebook page of Baker County High School’s publication “Baker Beat.”

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The Baker County School District posted an advisory, both on its website and outside the sports venue prior to Friday night’s game with a shortlist of safety recommendations, but no rules.

“We will implement procedures that, if followed, will provide a safe environment for these activities to take place,” the memo said.

Three guidelines are listed on the advisory from the district, including a request that spectators who are displaying symptoms avoid the event, a suggestion to social distance whenever possible and a face mask recommendation. However, the advice did not seem to be heeded at the Baker County game and others, according to Goldhagen having examined images of the crowds.

“What we see in the picture are people who are not physically isolating,” Goldhagen said. “They do not have masks, they’re also yelling in excitement about the game. They are spreading both via large droplets and aerosols. All of those individuals in the picture are at risk if any of those individuals in the picture are carrying COVID.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to “strongly recommend” a limitation on spectators at youth sporting events and that masks be used by players, staff and spectators.

SOURCE: Baker County High School website Sept. 7, 2020
SOURCE: Baker County High School website Sept. 7, 2020 (Baker County School District)

While Duval County Public Schools, the St. Johns County School District, the Clay County School District and many others implemented reduced capacity at athletic events to account for social distancing, BCSD did not.

The school district’s reopening plan makes no mention of masks or social distancing.

Goldhagen also noted that other area high school football games — including those photographed below in Yulee, Camden County and Charlton County — also showed displayed a lack of adherence to recommendations from the CDC, state and local departments of health.

Crowds of spectators at a high school football game in Charlton County on Sept. 4, 2020.
Crowds of spectators at a high school football game in Charlton County on Sept. 4, 2020. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)
Crowds of spectators at a high school football game in Camden County on Sept. 4, 2020.
Crowds of spectators at a high school football game in Camden County on Sept. 4, 2020. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)
Crowds of spectators at a high school football game in Yulee on Sept. 4, 2020.
Crowds of spectators at a high school football game in Yulee on Sept. 4, 2020. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

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