When Dan Peterson learned that there would be a youth baseball tournament just west of St. Louis last weekend, he was reluctant to let his son play.
But Peterson, who lives in the St. Louis area, also knew how much his 11-year-old son Jaxson had missed playing. After speaking with other families and hearing about the safety rules that would be in place, he decided to allow his son to participate.
“Everyone is a little different from the situation,” said Peterson, one of the coaches of his son’s team, the Diamond Stars. “We collectively decided as a team to go ahead and participate. “
While most sports remain outstanding in the United States, the Diamond Stars were among 40 teams that competed in the tournament on Saturday and Sunday, making it one of the few mass sporting events to have during the pandemic.
Yet the decision to move forward is being scrutinized, and it is an example of how fatigue from restrictions on coronaviruses meets public health requirements.
Public health experts said the event was particularly disturbing at a time when the state is seeking to reopen safely. Missouri confirmed 74 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, the lowest total on a day since mid-March. According to a New York Times database, there have been at least 10,025 cases of the virus in Missouri, with high concentrations in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. As of Monday evening, at least 512 people had died from the virus in the state.
Governor Michael L. Parson has started to lift home stay restrictions and allow businesses to reopen, while schools remain closed until fall.
“There is so much we do not know about transmission in our state,” said Lynelle Phillips, vice president of the Missouri Public Health Association and professor at the University of Missouri. “To host a huge baseball tournament, even the most optimistic of us have to cringe. “
The tournament could place an additional burden on local health services, said Phillips. If anyone in the tournament was positive, the contact tracers should track down everyone with whom this person has contacted. It would be even more difficult if this person had traveled from another county or state.
“It comes down to the wrong contactor,” said Phillips. “It’s just an additional complication. “
Zachary Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University in Atlanta who is monitoring efforts to return to the sport, condemned the decision to host the event.
“Major tournaments, the travel balloon should be the last to return” he wrote on Twitter. “Start with small training sessions, then simple matches between local teams. Even if you’re part of the “open up now” team, it’s literally the dumbest way to do it. “
On Saturday, a Kansas City, Missouri television station reported on what appeared to be an impromptu big scrum of youth soccer, in which players could be seen breaking the requirements for social distancing.
Missouri began the first phase of its stimulus package on May 4, allowing parts of the state to start reopening. Although the The plan says people should stay six feet apart, this does not limit the number of people allowed at social gatherings.
The baseball tournament was held on the grounds of St. Charles County, which also relaxed some restrictions. However, St. Louis, which shares a border with St. Charles, has the highest number of cases in the state, and its order for residence at home is still in effect.
A representative from the St. Charles County Health Service declined to comment.
Some teams came from Illinois, although home stay orders in their state were not lifted.
Tournament organizer GameTime asked players and coaches to maintain social distance and only allowed three people in the canoe at a time. The referee was standing six feet behind the pitcher’s mound instead of behind the plate, and the five-fist and fist pumps were prohibited. Instead, the players were encouraged to tip their hats to celebrate.
The balls were cleaned every half round and the canoes between each match. Spectators were seated in the outdoor field rather than in the stands.
A GameTime representative did not respond to messages left on Monday.
Photos that appeared in the local media have shown that the rules are not always followed.
Some families were concerned and at least two Diamond Stars players did not participate, said Peterson. He said those who have played have done their best to follow the guidelines, but it is not always possible to stay six feet apart during a baseball game.
“To be 11 years old, they did a good job of being aware of the situation,” said Peterson. “We did our best. “
His team plans to play in another tournament this weekend, and GameTime has scheduled events every weekend until fall. The guidelines will continue to be applied, but the organizer has said on its website that it plans to lift them as soon as possible, ideally by the end of May.
“I miss baseball so much,” said Phillips. “It is so difficult. I just hope that, as this tournament unfolds, their organizers are ready to make the difficult decision and apply restrictions and cancel if that is what science and the evidence tells us to do. ”