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Parents file federal lawsuit against Gov. Walz over pause on youth sports

Let Them Play MN filed the lawsuit on behalf of several unnamed youth players and coaches.

A group of parents filed a lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Tim Walz's latest pause on youth and high school sports, saying it is "not based on data or science."

The nonprofit Let Them Play, which was started by parents has more than 23,000 Facebook members, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday in their latest push to get kids back into sports, saying the ban on youth sports "unfairly singles out young people for harm even though state officials are aware the decision lacks support in sound science or common sense."

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of five unnamed youth athletes and two unnamed coaches, names Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Commissioner Jan Malcolm, MDH's Alice Roberts-Davis and the Minnesota Department of Administration as defendants. 

Gov. Walz ordered a four-week "pause" on youth sports and restrictions on other businesses from Nov. 21 through Dec. 18. He's expected to announce a decision on whether he'll extend the "pause" on Monday. One adjustment that could be made next week is with regards to youth sports, with Walz saying on Tuesday that "it's the one we're trying to figure out."

The lawsuit argues that MDH's data show youth sports don't spread COVID-19 (see the state's data below) and takes issue with the term "outbreak," which is used ambiguously to justify the ban on youth sports while allowing college and professional sports to continue. 

In addition, the lawsuit alleges Walz's executive order prohibits people from protesting the order, saying "It is not without a certain irony that the same executive order that irrationally bars youth sports also prohibits collective action by those who would dissent," saying the order is in violation of First Amendment freedoms because the governor is attempting to prohibit people who disagree with his decisions from congregating together. 

The current executive order does prohibit gatherings of people from different households even if social distancing can be maintained, but does say "Nothing in this executive order is intended to encourage or allow law enforcement to transgress individual constitutional rights."

Bring Me The News has reached out to the governor's and attorney general's offices for comment. 

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1,225 cases linked to sports

As of Dec. 3, the Minnesota Department of Health data show 308 COVID-19 outbreaks and 1,225 cases have been linked to sports in Minnesota. As of Dec. 3, the state had 333,626 total lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

That being said, Commissioner Malcolm has said the case numbers connected to youth sports and other social settings are "a very significant undercount."

The figures MDH releases refer to the "primary" infections that can be attributed to a specific setting. It does not consider "second- and third-effect infections" that occurs when someone gives the virus to somebody else, which can happen unknowingly if they are asymptomatic.

By the time it reaches the fourth-generation of transmission, one case can lead to as many as 70 other positive cases when community spread is as widespread as it has been in Minnesota, state officials said in November when announcing the four-week pause on youth sports and tightened restrictions on some businesses. 

State officials have said case numbers linked to youth sports and other social settings can be difficult to track because of uncontrolled "community transmission," where a person's diagnosis can't be attributed to a single source of infection.

With regards to the pause on youth sports but not college or professional sport, Walz said that this was the result of a "great inequity ... and like so many things it comes with money."

"They're testing every single person, we're not testing every single high school athlete, we're not keeping them in a pod close together, we're not keeping the coaches all working together and testing 2-3 times a day, The ability to control this and the mitigation efforts they put in place is vastly different," he said.

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