05.02.2023

Health officials warn cheerleading contest bringing 40,000 to Georgia could be Covid super-spreading event

Public health officials have raised concerns about a national cheerleading event in Georgia that is expected to host thousands of people, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The annual Cheersports Nationals cheerleading competition takes place in Atlanta, Georgia, from Friday until Sunday, with the three-day competition expected to be attended by 1,500 teams and at least 40,000 people.

Organisers have set up strict coronavirus protocols for the competition, requiring attendees to wear face masks when not competing, forcing spectators to sit six feet apart and making sure all surfaces are disinfected, according to NBC News.

In a statement on its website, the event’s organiser Varsity Spirit warned those attending that there is an “inherent risk of exposure to Covid-19 exists in any public place where people are present.”

The organisers added: “By attending this event, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to Covid-19.”

However, health officials have still raised concerns about the big event, as tens of thousands of people will be travelling to the competition from all across the US.

Although the US has seen a sharp fall in Covid-19 cases and deaths over the last three weeks since the peak in early January, officials have warned that an outbreak at the competition could cause a spike across the country.

Dr Amber Schmidtke, a public health microbiologist, told 11Alive: “The fear is that these people will gather and then take the variant home with them to their communities and plant the seed.”

While Dr Carlos del Rio, an Emory University professor of global health and epidemiology, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “we’re still in a very red zone, with a lot of community transmission.”

He acknowledged that coronavirus cases have recently fallen but added: “We’re just coming down from peaks. That’s my biggest concern.”

Earlier this week, Varsity Spirit announced that a separate competition, the All-Star National Championship, would be held virtually instead of at the scheduled Dallas, Texas, but did not clarify why the event in Atlanta is still going ahead in-person.

“We have been closely monitoring official information from health authorities, the City of Dallas, and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Centre as it pertains to Covid-19,” Varsity Spirit said in a statement about the Dallas competition.

“Based on this information, combined with the extensive size of NCA All-Star Nationals, it has been determined that it will not be possible to host this in-person national competition,” the organisation added.

Georgia, like many states across the US, has struggled with limited supplies of vaccines since two treatments were approved in late 2020.

However, President Joe Biden has called any shortages “unacceptable,” and said that he expects the US to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.

Since the start of the pandemic, Georgia has recorded more than 931,000 coronavirus cases and at least 15,050 deaths, while Texas has seen 2.54 million positive Covid-19 tests and 40,661 fatalities.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are now more than 27.3 million people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in the US. The death toll has reached 475,444.

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