High school football playoffs proceed as pandemic spikes in Utah

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American Football – First and goal – Close up of football inches from the goal line

EAGLE MOUNTAIN, Utah (ABC4 News) – On Thursday, teams competed during state semifinals at Cedar Valley High School — even as state officials reported an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases and a shortage of medical beds at hospitals across Utah.

Here were the rules: each high school player, or coach, or participant, was awarded two tickets to give to friends or family. Once inside, everyone was required to wear masks. The only exception to the mask-wearing rule was for players on the field actually in the game.

On Sunday, Gov. Gary Herbert announced an executive order regarding COVID-19 and new restrictions. He put a hiatus of two weeks on all school sports and extracurriculars. But, he said, he would allow high school football playoffs to continue.

During a news conference Thursday, state officials explained that football players test numbers had been coming back with low positivity rates. Those participating in the playoffs — 1,360 people, in all — were preemptively tested for COVID-19. Only 49 cases came up positive.

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this,” said Dr. Angela Dunn, state epidemiologist, on Thursday.

“But, we all need to start acting like high school athletes. They have something they care about. And they’re protecting their ability to keep playing,” added Dunn.

“Find that thing that you care about as much as these athletes care about football,” she said.

Dunn said she’s hearing anecdotally that these football players are taking COVID-19 seriously — physically distancing, wearing masks, interacting with just a few people outside school. And, she says, that behavior is proof that taking precautions actually works.

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