Schools, youth sports adjusting schedules due to EEE concerns
Dartmouth schools and youth sports programs are taking precautions against the threat of Eastern equine encephalitis, after a Fairhaven woman with Dartmouth ties died from the disease this week.
On August 26, Dartmouth school officials announced all after-school activities district-wide will end promptly at 5:30 p.m. — before the dusk-to-dawn cycle during which mosquitoes are most active.
“Seeing as we’re still in the moderate threat category we can at least make some adjustments,” Gifford said. “That’s why we’re putting out these practice schedule adjustments.”
Gifford noted the high school band practices two to three nights a week until the late evening hours. Now, band practice will begin at 2:15 p.m. right as school lets out.
As of now, there are no schedule changes for any fall sports programs. While most regular season games are in the afternoon, football games are Friday evenings. As of now, that is still the plan.
“We’re going to maintain that schedule and just advise folks to continue being precautionary, use bug spray, wear long sleeves, et cetera, and that’s the guidance we’re getting from the Department of Public Health as well as [Dartmouth Director of Public Health Chris] Michaud,” Gifford said.
The state has sprayed mosquito-killing pesticides at Dartmouth Middle School, Quinn Elementary School, and Dartmouth High School, which is where evening activities are held. According to school officials, the town is in contact with the state about additional spraying.
Dartmouth Public Schools are not the only ones with concerns about EEE. Bishop Stang High School implemented a 6 p.m. curfew for its outdoor activities at the start of preseason sports practices.
Most sports programs conclude in the mid afternoon and early evening hours, but Bishop Stang President/Principal Peter Shaughnessy said football will be affected. The school is in the process of rescheduling home football games, which will be announced once it is finalized.
“For football games, we are erring on the side of caution,” Shaughnessy said. “We figure it’s not worth it, especially in light of the human cases and the terrible situation of the woman passing away.”
The school department’s announcement has also put youth sports on the radar too. On August 27, Dartmouth Youth Soccer Association officials announced it will join Dartmouth schools in implementing a 5:30 p.m. cutoff for outdoor activities.
Practices for several leagues were scheduled throughout the week well into the evening hours, according to the DYSA’s online schedule.
“It will have a big impact,” said DYSA President Mike Fernandes. “We’ve got three different leagues we support. Our GPS Vipers team plays very, very competitively, and they’re getting ready to start games shortly.”
Fernandes said in his memory the DYSA has never had to take this step due to concerns over EEE. To ensure teams are still able to practice, Fernandes said the DYSA is exploring renting indoor soccer fields.
“We’ll have to monitor this, and see what the Town of Dartmouth is recommending and what the state is recommending,” Fernandes said.
According to the state Department of Health, Dartmouth’s EEE risk is classified as “moderate.” Much of the South Coast remains at either high or critical risk for EEE — including neighboring New Bedford.
The news comes after the state announced that a fourth human case of EEE was reported in a woman over the age of 50 from southern Bristol County. Several days later, friends, family, and her employer confirmed she had died from the disease.
Although the state does not publicly identify those diagnosed with EEE, New Bedford real estate agency Pelletier Realty confirmed the woman was an employee there named Laurie Ditata Sylvia. She was a graduate of Dartmouth High School.
EEE, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is a rare virus that is spread by infected mosquitoes that can cause inflammation of the brain. Only 5 to 10 cases are reported each year in the United States.
There is no specific treatment, and approximately one third of those infected die. Survivors are typically left with mild to severe brain damage.
For the latest information about EEE, visit the town Board of Health website at town.dartmouth.ma.us/board-health, or mass.gov/dph/mosquito.