Health experts say they are worried that the start of basketball season in Mississippi will compound the state’s COVID-19 infection rates, which have reached new records this week — and several high school and college teams in the state have already seen major outbreaks.
In fact, Ole Miss announced Monday morning its men’s team will take a two-week timeout from basketball activities due to COVID-19.
Last week, both State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers and State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs expressed concerns that basketball, because it is played indoors, has the potential to significantly spread the viral disease.
“Basketball is particular concerning,” Byers said. “We have seen clusters and outbreaks in basketball settings and we’re worried about that.”
Asked about whether basketball presents inherent problems, Dobbs was adamant that playing an indoor sport in settings with limited air flow could lead to outbreaks.
“I’m going to say one thing,” Dobbs said. “The CDC (Center for Disease Control) had a recent announcement about a hockey outbreak. One person gave it to 22 people at a hockey game… That’s pretty appalling, right? … Basketball is a lot more intimate than ice hockey. I think, yes, basketball is going to be more dangerous.”
High school and college basketball teams across Mississippi face mounting issues as the 2020-21 basketball season begins on a hit-and-miss basis across the state.
Ole Miss announced Monday morning it is suspending men’s basketball activities until Dec. 7 because of a rash of COVID-19 infections. That means the cancellation the first four games on its schedule, including three games in the Justin Reed Classic the Rebels were supposed to host Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. A Dec. 5 home game with Memphis also has been canceled.
Ole Miss announced last week that coach Kermit Davis Jr. had tested positive for COVID-19. Davis indicated he has experienced mild symptoms.
“We were doing well and then it hit us,” Davis said in a text message on Monday morning. “(COVID-19) is going through us.”
Southern Miss has announced that its first two games — Saturday and Sunday in the MKE Classic at Milwaukee — have been canceled due to COVID-19 issues among other teams in the tournament. USM was scheduled to play North Dakota State on Saturday and Milwaukee on Sunday. As it now stands, the Golden Eagles will not open the season until Dec. 2 with a home game against cross-town rival William Carey.
“We are looking for games to add to our schedule,” USM coach Jay Ladner said in a text message. He indicated his team has experienced no serious COVID-19 issues.
Meanwhile, Mississippi State will begin its men’s season Wednesday night against Clemson in the Space Coast Challenge at Melbourne, Fla. State also will play either Liberty or Purdue on Thursday in the Florida event and is scheduled to open at home next Monday night against Texas State.
Ole Miss, State and Southern Miss all have announced plans to limit basketball attendance to 25% of arena capacity for home games.
Mississippi junior college teams have put off the start of basketball season until the third week of January, and high school teams across the state widely vary on how they are approaching basketball season.
Jackson Public Schools, which canceled the fall football season, plans to play basketball, but will not play before Dec. 19, JPS athletic director Daryl Jones said.
“It’s going to be tough, but we’re doing everything possible to play,” Jones said.
At perennial powerhouse Gulfport, the season has begun with decidedly mixed results. The Admirals already have had three games postponed or canceled. Gulfport was supposed to host its annual Thanksgiving tournament today and Tuesday, but that event has been canceled due to multiple teams with COVID-19 issues. Gulfport has managed to play four games and has a 2-2 record despite multiple problems with the virus.
“We’ve got four of our starters quarantined because of COVID,” coach Owen Miller said. “They don’t have it but they have been exposed to it. We’ve had two kids test positive and they have had only mild symptoms.”
Greenville is the only Mississippi high school known to have canceled its basketball season, according to the Mississippi High Schools Activities Association (MHSAA).