Cluster of COVID-19 Cases Forces Women’s Water Polo to Cancel Season

Photo Courtesy of Santa-Barbara News-Press

Alexandra Wishowski

Isla Vista Beat Reporter

On April 6, UC Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Emergency Alert System sent out a campus-wide notification announcing a cluster of 10 positive COVID-19 cases in “members of an Intercollegiate Athletics team.”

“The impacted individuals are self-isolating and have not used any campus facilities since March 25, 2021,” read the email. “UC Santa Barbara has canceled the remainder of the season for the affected team, effective immediately.” 

Public health officials from the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department are working closely with university administrators regarding contact tracing efforts for the incident. Officials will reach out to any individuals in the community who may have been in contact with members of the athletic team who tested positive for COVID-19. 

While the email failed to specify the affected team, the UCSB athletics website confirmed that the women’s water polo team canceled their 2021 season as a result of COVID-19 concerns. 

“It is unfortunate that we needed to take this action,” said UCSB Director of Athletics John McCutcheon in a statement posted to the school’s athletics website. “But circumstances forced our decision. We will continue to support the team as we progress through this difficult situation,” he continued.

Out of the eight matches played during the women’s water polo season, the team’s 2021 schedule indicates that they won three matches and lost five matches. Additionally, a match against the University of Hawai’i on Sunday was canceled along with two other scheduled games at Long Beach State planned for the following weekend.

Previously, the Big West Conference postponed all fall sports during the summer of 2020 but approved winter and spring sports under the condition that adherence to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines were to be followed. 

“It is unfortunate that we needed to take this action,” said UCSB Director of Athletics John McCutcheon in a statement posted to the school’s athletics website. “But circumstances forced our decision. We will continue to support the team as we progress through this difficult situation,” he continued.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association classifies water polo athletes as Tier 1 personnel in their Return to Championships Guidelines, which provides sport-specific recommendations for preliminary rounds and championships based on guidance from the federal government and health agencies. Frequent testing and mask-wearing are extremely important because these are high-exposure individuals, as “physical distancing and face coverings are not possible or effective during athletic training or competition.”

Although the reason for the positive case cluster was withheld by UCSB, a potential cause could be traced to out-of-town travel during the recent spring break. It is also possible that gatherings held in honor of Deltopia weekend — which traditionally takes place during the first weekend of spring quarter — could have contributed to the COVID-19 cases.

According to a report released by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, a total of 20 citations were issued and five arrests were made during Deltopia weekend from April 2 to April 4. The Instagram account @ucsb.party also shared several videos showing footage of large gatherings held on Saturday, April 3. 

Hosting “mountain parties” has also become a popular way of having large gatherings during the pandemic that allows partygoers to avoid law enforcement. Usually by invitation only, a host shares coordinates for locations in the Santa Ynez mountains to partygoers, who are then allowed to bring guests along with them. 

The most recent mountain party took place on Deltopia weekend, starting around 10 p.m. and ending at around 6 a.m. These large gatherings include live music and have been hosted throughout the COVID-19 lockdown, which may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 in the UCSB community. 

Individuals with any questions or concerns relating to the university’s response to COVID-19 should contact the COVID-19 Call Center. Hours of operation and contact information may be found on UCSB’s COVID-19 Campus Information page.