Minnesota, S.D. health departments grapple over youth wrestling COVID-19 cases

KELOLAND.com Original

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A youth wrestling tournament held in Sioux Falls has health departments from Minnesota and South Dakota grappling over blame.

When asked during today’s news briefing about cases of COVID-19 that the Minnesota Department of Health has traced to the the March 31 through April 4 Minnesota-based youth wrestling tournament during a Wednesday news briefing, DOH Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon said the state of Minnesota is seeing widespread coronavirus.

“Really because Minnesota was closed to different activities that we saw people from Minnesota actually come to South Dakota come to engage in that tournament,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

While, according to Minnesota information, people who attended the tournament were diagnosed with COVID-19, “we also know that there is a lot of COVID-19 happening in the state of Minnesota anyway,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

KELOLAND News also asked Malsam-Rysdon if it was wise or risky to “invite” or let it be known that South Dakota is open to such events when it is known that nearby states have widespread cases of coronavirus, Malsam-Rysdon said the state did not invite the Minnesota tournament to South Dakota.

“This was a Minnesota tournament that just happened to be held in South Dakota,” Malsam-Rysdon said. “They weren’t invited by South Dakota or the state of South Dakota. They were all Minnesota participants.”

The decision to have the tournament was made by those organizing it, Malsam-Rysdon said. People could make a decision on whether or not to attend, she said.

“Those are decisions that we’re gonna continue to provide good information, the most recent information, and people have to make decisions that are the best for them about participating events,” Malsam-Rysdon said. “That needs to happen for people in other states as well.”

South Dakota may not have officially invited the Minnesota-based Northland Youth Wrestling Association to move its annual tournament from Rochester, Minnesota, to Sioux Falls, the organization’s president said in an April 1 KELOLAND News story that a lack of restrictions in South Dakota prompted the move.

The lack of restrictions with large gatherings poses a risk, said Doug Schultz of the Minnesota Department of Health. KELOLAND’s Jacob Newton contacted the MnDOH earlier this week about the COVID-19 cases linked to the tournament in Sioux Falls.

“If even one person is present who is ill or is infectious, many others can be affected,” he said.

Gov. Kristi Noem has also shared multiple posts on her Governor’s Twitter account and in public statements about how the state is open for business and about how she hasn’t imposed the restrictions that officials have in other states.

As to whether or not Minnesota has developed models that could show future spread linked to the wrestling tournament, “We have not done any  modeling specific to this situation, but we continue to monitor the situation. We know that there is increased spread of COVID-19 in (Minnesota) that the B.1.1.7 variant, which is more contagious, is driving much of the increase in (Minnesota) and nationally, so we are concerned that there could be additional secondary spread from those who don’t know they are infected,” Schultz said in an email to KELOLAND.

A mask mandate in the city of Sioux Falls expired in March. The city and operations manager at venues such as the PREMIER Center and Sioux Falls Arena and Convention Center had no crowd size restrictions.

This year’s tournament features 2,100 participants. The event has been a staple in Rochester, Minnesota for more than two decades, but (Northland Youth Wrestling Association president) Corey Olson made the move to Sioux Falls due to past COVID restrictions in his home state he said in an April 1 story for KELOLAND News.

While the wrestlers were from Minnesota, the event was open to the public. Also, some of those wrestlers and adults with them would stay in Sioux Falls and visit Sioux Falls businesses.

“Timing couldn’t be better. We all know that communities are hurting right now from COVID, Sioux Falls is no different. We’re ecstatic to have our hotel rooms filling, restaurants getting business, you know they’re going to be out shopping,” Experience Sioux Falls Executive Director Teri Schmidt said. in the April 1 KELOLAND News story.

KELOLAND News photos and videos from the wrestling tournament show adults and children packed tightly into seats and many were not wearing masks.

A photo from the recent youth wrestling tournament in Sioux Falls. KELOLAND News

“We have heard anecdotal reports of tournaments and events being moved outside of (Minnesota) state borders and it is always a concern to see large gatherings where mitigation may not be well-enforced or adhered to, especially when we have more transmissible variants circulating widely in the state and nationally,” Schultz said.

Malsam-Rysdon said the DOH will continue to provide the public with information about COVID-19 so they can make the best decisions for themselves. People in other states need to make decisions that are best for them as well, Malsam-Rysdon said.

Schulz said there are risks with gatherings such as the youth wrestling tournament.

“Whenever people gather outside their household there is risk and the larger the gathering, the greater the risk. However, the risk can be greatly reduced with strict adherence to mitigation strategies: masking whenever feasible, distancing when feasible, adhering to quarantine, staying home when ill,” Shultz said.

When mitigation efforts are not followed the risk is heightened, Schultz said.

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