State basketball tourney, other school competitions scrapped due to coronavirus

Posted 3/12/20

As part of efforts to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus that’s making its way across the country, public health officials in Casper canceled this weekend’s state high school …

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State basketball tourney, other school competitions scrapped due to coronavirus


As part of efforts to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus that’s making its way across the country, public health officials in Casper canceled this weekend’s state high school basketball tournaments. The state high school speech competition in Green River, an FFA event in Saratoga and a middle school conference swim meet in Worland have also been nixed. 

Dozens of teams and scores of fans had gathered in Casper this week for the state basketball tournaments. However, Dr. Mark Dowell, the Natrona County Health Officer, shut down the event after Thursday morning’s opening games. The order followed Wednesday night’s news that a woman in Sheridan County has developed COVID-19Wyoming’s first confirmed case of the new disease — and after many major sporting events have been canceled or suspended across the U.S.

Dowell said canceling the Wyoming High School Activities Association’s basketball tournament was “a no brainer.”

“It just made no sense [to continue], because we really don’t have an idea yet of what’s in the state,” he said at an afternoon news conference, adding that, ”it was the right thing to do and I wouldn’t sleep at night if I put hundreds and hundreds — and potentially thousands — of people at risk.”

While saying he's sure there are multiple cases in the state, Dowell has also stressed that “this is not a panic situation,” and that the action was a part of a “proactive” approach to limiting the spread of the virus. The Wyoming Department of Health said Wednesday night that the risk to state residents from COVID-19 “remains low.”

The State Spirit Competition — featuring the Powell High School cheerleaders and more than 30 other teams — was held as scheduled at the Casper Events Center on Wednesday.

Following the Sheridan County woman’s diagnosis Wednesday night, Casper health officials initially decided to allow the Class 3A and 4A tournaments to go forward with no spectators. However, after Dowell thought about it some more — and learned that NCAA conference basketball tournaments were being called off — he canceled the Wyoming competitions. Officials began clearing the Events Center and Casper College on Thursday morning following the first two games, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

The PHS boys basketball team — who qualified for the state tournament on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer last week — had been set to face the Rawlins Outlaws at the Events Center late Thursday night. The Panthers were going to leave for Casper at noon, “so we caught them before they left,” said PHS Principal Tim Wormald. As for the Powell speech team, they were about 70 miles from Green River when they got word the event was being canceled and to head back, Wormald said; FFA members had not yet left for Saratoga.

There’s been no indication as to when, if ever, the events will be made up.

“We are still waiting for further guidance from the State Department of Health and will then start looking at all events,” Wyoming High School Activities Association Commissioner Ron Laird said Thursday. “We will make a statement, once we know what we can and cannot do.”

It was health officials, and not the WHSAA, that made the decision to cancel the basketball tournament.

“It’s unfortunate for these kids,” said PHS activities director Scott McKenzie, noting the work the students have put in since November in preparation for the state competitions.

Practices for spring sports began this week, and McKenzie said Thursday that they will continue.

“As long as we are in school, we’ll practice, and as long as we’re in school and the other school is, we’ll host events,” he said.

The boys’ and girls’ soccer teams’ opening games against Buffalo — set for Saturday, March 21 at Panther Stadium — are the next scheduled action and have not been changed. McKenzie said his understanding is that the current health precautions are aimed at much larger gatherings, but with the games still a week away, “we have some time here to monitor the situation.”

“We do have action plans in place and have been educating staff and students on cleanliness and things of that nature,” McKenzie said of the Powell school district, adding that plans can be adjusted on the fly.

That’s what happened with the abrupt cancellation of the state basketball tournament. Dr. Dowell said at Thursday’s press conference that he knows the decision is disappointing — particularly for athletes in their senior years.

“But you know, we can’t change nature here and we can't change what we have to do as a society,” he said, adding that, “we’ve got to look out for the public good.”

Based on what is currently known about COVID-19, Casper-Natrona County Health Department  Executive Director Anna Kinder said that youth “are really not that susceptible.” However, the elderly and those who are immunocompromised are particularly vulnerable to the disease, which can, in a small number of cases, be fatal; the average age of those who have died from the virus is 80 years old, Dowell said Wednesday.

Kinder said the cancelation was aimed at keeping the disease from spreading from those who might feel relatively healthy or suffer only minor symptoms to those who might not be able to fight off the virus.

“Because this is a very new, novel virus that we have not experienced, it is very contagious and will spread like wildfire,” Kinder said at a Thursday morning press conference. “So we’re looking for opportunities to contain the virus to protect our citizens and protect everybody involved.”

She acknowledged the cancellation was “a huge loss” for players, coaches, parents, fans and Casper area businesses, but said “we’re taking a very proactive response to keep it [COVID-19] contained so it doesn’t wipe out our entire community — and we want to protect our citizens, first and foremost.”

Kinder said Natrona County officials are following national standards, noting that conferences “are being canceled left and right.” After a player with the Utah Jazz tested posted for COVID-19, the NBA announced it was indefinitely suspending its season following Wednesday night's games. The NHL followed suit on Thursday and MLB announced a halt to spring training. This month’s NCAA basketball tournaments were initially set to go forward without spectators, but they have also been canceled.

In remarks to Congress on Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci — the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — recommended against holding events with large crowds. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., took to Twitter to share a chart indicating that the rise of new coronavirus cases in the United States so far matches that of Italy, which has seen more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 and has begun taking more serious steps to limit its spread.

“We must slow transmission and get off this curve to save lives,” Cheney wrote on Wednesday. “Social distancing and canceling events are crucial. We must do this now.”