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Doctor concerned about youth sports travel

A Western New York sports medicine physician is worried about the spread of COVID-19 due to families traveling out-of-state for youth sports tournaments.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A Western New York doctor who practices sports medicine says he is very concerned about youth sports travel teams that are going to other states to play in tournaments.

Dr. Jason Matuszak says certain sports are increasing the risk of spreading the disease. He says some travel teams are going out of state, staying less than 24-hours, then bringing COVID-19 back with them.

The Erie County Department of Health clearly stated in a press release Thursday that New York Forward guidelines say "Competitive tournaments of multiple games, meets, matches, or scrimmages requiring travel are not allowed." And, sports programs that operate as an organization in New York are required to follow those guidelines. 

Dr. Matuszak, who practices sports medicine at Excelsior Orthopaedics, sent out a Tweet this weekend saying: "Youth travel hockey is single handedly going to cause multiple school districts to go remote in New York... need to clamp down."

"It's not passing though, it's not casual, it's not less than 15 minutes, which is the CDC recommendation less than 15 minutes, less than 6 feet apart without a mask on, I mean, most of these sports, they are not playing with masks," Matuszak said. 

Matuszak knows kids want to play sports, but says there's just too much we don't know yet about the long term impacts of the virus.

"If we're looking ahead to the winter season, and knowing how important these sports are to a lot of our young athletes and athletes' families, you know, our first recommendation would be, hey, if there's a safe way to do this, then let's pursue that," Matuszak said. "But right now, there does not appear to be a safe path forward in order to be able to help keep these levels down in our communities. If a lot of these families still saw it as rampant as it is in other places, they might have a different take on exposing their kids to risk."

But, Matuszak knows some teams are traveling, and he's really concerned about sports played inside where there's poor ventilation like ice hockey.

"My recommendation is the same, which is stay home," Matuszak said. "Stay here. Right now, these risks are risks that are risks that are much greater than what you're going to get out of playing in this one tournament in this one place right now. Stay here working on your skills. Work on all the other parts of your game that improve, and there will be a time, there will come a time, where you'll be able to have these kinds of competitions where you'll be able to compete and do these other things, but that time's not right now."

Matuszak helped come up with the protocol for the 11 Day Power Play earlier this year, and he said moving it outside with fewer people helped lower the risk. 

A spokesperson for the Erie County Department of Health told 2 On Your Side on Monday that: "It is our understanding that under NY Forward Sports and Recreation guidance, youth sports teams are not permitted to travel for games and other activities. Individuals/entities who violate NY Forward guidelines are subject to significant fines which will be administered by this Department.

"Travelers who were in non-contiguous states for less than 24 hours do not need to quarantine upon return to NYS, though NYS expects that the traveler will fill out the traveler form and take a COVID diagnostic test four days after their return to NYS.

"ECDOH is recommending that Erie County residents cancel or postpone travel to states that are experiencing high levels of COVID transmission in their communities. We are seeing an increase in new COVID cases among students and school staff. Our case investigations have shown that there are several that can be linked youth sports teams that chose to travel recently to states with a high rate of COVID transmission.

"We need to do everything we can as a community to prevent new COVID cases, and travel-based COVID cases are preventable."

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