Little League avoids COVID case strikeouts | News, Sports, Jobs

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette
Drew Palluti, 12, and his father Shawn of Duanesburg, NY relax on the hill overlooking Lamade Stadium before the Little League World Series Championship Sunday.

The Little League World Series managed to close out with no positive COVID tests among players, coaches and staff, according to Little League officials.

This success defies increasing COVID case transmissions in Lycoming County, as marked by the county breaching into the “high” range of case transmissions on Aug. 22.

That success is attributed to the creation of a pandemic response advisory commission, which fielded input from infectious disease experts, according to Brian McClintock, the Little League International senior director of communications.

“It’s the product of months and months of research and planning,” McClintock said. “Our primary task above all else was to ensure the health and safety of players who could be vulnerable due to lack of vaccination, and the volunteers who come and give us our time.”

A big part of that process involved limiting contact between the players and spectators, including their families, according to Daniel Velte, Little League International senior operations executive.

Normally, players could go around the complex identified by their hats and indicators, according to Velte. However, this year, they were much more restricted to “pods,” meaning players mostly mingled with their teams.

Velte said instead of mingling with other teams at indoor recreation areas, this year, players interacted with those from other teams in open-air areas. Additionally, they had an opportunity to watch other teams’ games in the outdoor areas.

“We had commitment from the teams. Everyone was committed to following the plan and staying in team pods,” Velte said. “Having that commitment from the teams and understanding what we were trying to accomplish was really helpful.”

That commitment went as far as two teams who continued to isolate between their regional tournament and the World Series, Velte said.

Part of making that work, however, was heavier scheduling–ensuring timing with the teams lined up to ensure they had plenty of fun during recreation activities, but were also able to remain within team pods, according to McClintock.

Velte said part of the modifications impacted families, too.

“We were used to sweeping moms hugging kids when they left the stadium,” Velte said.

“The sacrifices the families have made to limit contact with players have been hard but we are thankful they did so from a public health standpoint.”

Daniel Lueders, a UPMC sports medicine physician and chair of the pandemic response advisory commission, said all volunteers who came in contact with the players were vaccinated. Additionally, any other staff on-site at the World Series who was not vaccinated performed rapid antigen testing every morning of the World Series–also, with negative results each time.

“Volunteers give up their time and energy to make this as successful as it is,” Lueders said.

Players and unvaccinated World Series-side staff were tested each day through Friday, and the final results of those tests came back Friday.

According to Velte, Little League staff did not conduct further tests because the results would not have been returned in enough time to make any sort of decisions moving forward in the World Series.

Dr. Rutul Dalal, medical director of infectious diseases for UPMC in North Central Pennsylvania, said the hospital was happy to see the World Series return to Williamsport, even in a different way than normally expected.

“It took a lot of preparation, planning and collaboration to ensure the safety of everyone involved and Little League stepped up to that challenge,” Dalal said. “We look forward to welcoming the world back to Williamsport in 2022.”

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