Tens of thousands of people are expected to travel to Atlanta this weekend for the annual Cheersports Nationals cheerleading competition, raising concern among public health officials that the contest could become a coronavirus super-spreader event.
“The fear is that these people will gather and then take the variant home with them to their communities and plant the seed," Dr. Amber Schmidtke, a public health microbiologist, told NBC affiliate 11Alive.
Attendees and participants will be required to wear masks except when competing, spectators must sit six feet apart and all surfaces will be disinfected.
"An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present," event organizer Varsity Spirit said on its website. "By attending this event, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19."
The three-day competition is expected to draw 40,000 people and nearly 1,500 teams from all over the country starting Friday.
“We’re still in a very red zone, with a lot of community transmission,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University professor of global health and epidemiology, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re just coming down from peaks. That’s my biggest concern.”
Varsity Spirit announced earlier this week that a different cheerleading event, the All-Star National Championship, would be virtual. That event is scheduled to take place in Dallas at the end of the month.
"We have been closely monitoring official information from health authorities, the City of Dallas, and the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center as it pertains to COVID-19," Varsity Spirit said in a statement. "Based on this information, combined with the extensive size of NCA All-Star Nationals, it has been determined that it will not be possible to host this in-person national competition."
Varsity Spirit did not explain why the Dallas competition is being held virtually but not the Atlanta contest. It did not respond to a request for comment.
Like many states, Georgia has struggled to vaccinate its first round of eligible residents. Public health officials recently stopped Covid-19 vaccinations at a rural clinic that was giving doses to teachers, who were not yet eligible to receive them under the state's tiered system.
"It was shock and then lot of anger because we knew immediately that everything we had tried to do up until now to vaccinate our county was just laid to waste," Dr. Jonathan Poon from the Medical Center of Elberton told Nightly News.