Hundreds of youth sports teams from out-of-state are coming to the Valley for tournaments Thanksgiving weekend.
ABC15 has confirmed a soccer tournament with 500 teams, a hockey tournament with roughly 100 teams, as well as basketball and baseball tournaments.
The games span the entire Valley, and families will fill hotels and restaurants at a time when Arizona's COVID-19 cases are surging.
On Tuesday, the state announced more than 4,500 new cases and dwindling ICU capacity.
The sports tournaments are the latest example of how divided the country is about the virus.
A large number of people on social media are speculating about the sporting events being a 'super-spreader' and decrying Mayor Kate Gallego and others for allowing them to continue. Others, defending the tournaments, argue that they are safe and COVID-19 is not a legitimate threat to most people, and praise politicians for allowing their children to continue playing club sports competitively.
Health officials at every level, meanwhile, are urging Americans to limit their gathering and close contacts with others outside their immediate families.
"We really need to reconsider these types of tournaments," said Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo.
It is likely too late to call off the hundreds of games this week, which cover the Valley from Gilbert to Glendale.
Teams from all over the southwest are coming to town. Many of the teams are from nearby California, which has implemented far stricter COVID-19 rules since the beginning of the year.
"It’s been hard to find out-of-state tournaments this year," said Amber Sliwinski from Surprise.
Sliwinski's youngest son is 14-years old and a star on the ice.
"Our son has been signed up for college recruiting and professional recruiting. So taking a year off [hockey] as a freshman could be really negative for him moving forward," said the mother.
Sliwinski's son is playing in the annual Thanksgiving Shootout, organized by Arizona Hockey Clubs.
Roughly 97 teams are playing in rinks in Phoenix, Gilbert, Tempe, Chandler, Scottsdale, Glendale, Mesa and Peoria.
Many of the teams are from California, Utah, Nevada, and some appear to be from Alaska.
"Kids have to have their masks on if they are not on the ice. Guests all have to have their masks on," said Sliwinski. "They’re doing temperature checks at arenas, they are limiting the number of people in the arenas, and the spacing between rows."
Every tournament has COVID-19 guidelines.
The Desert Super Cup, featuring 460 out-of-state soccer teams submitted their 'COVID safety plan' to the City of Phoenix, which includes:
- Require players and coaches to do a self-temperature check prior to going to the facility
- Place clear signage throughout the park to promote the mask mandate and physical distancing requirement
- Have 50 hand sanitizing stations placed throughout the park
- Stagger game times and allow 30 minutes in between games to minimize loitering and ensure a good flow of traffic in and out of the park
- Monitor mask mandate and physical distancing with staff and field marshals
- Ask those not following requirements to leave or sit in their vehicles
- Hire additional police officers to assist with the monitoring of safety guidelines. This is in addition to the two already required by the department.
"It’s difficult to enforce many of the public health guidance around mask-wearing and social distancing," said Professor Megan Jehn, a Clinical Epidemiologist with ASU.
"I've been to these tournaments. There was very little in social distancing, very little. I would say less than 5% of the people had masks," said Supervisor Gallardo.
The CDC categorizes full competition, involving out-of-state teams, as the highest risk activity in sports.
"You have people driving together to games. You have people getting together outside of the game for the social setting to eat, drink, and hang out," said Professor Jehn.
As Arizona continues to see a rapid rise in cases across the state, calls for city leaders to cancel the tournaments have grown.
"I feel for the politicians. It’s a really hard thing to think about taking away from kids right now," said Jehn. "It’s unfortunate that transmission is at such a level that it is right now that we are having a grapple with some of these really hard decisions."
So many people, who are forgoing Thanksgiving this year with loved ones, are now furious thousands are coming to their neighborhoods from other states and for recreation.
The parents though, who will watch their kids from the sideline, are thankful Arizona is still allowing their children to take the field.
"It’s really a lose-lose situation," said Jehn.
The Phoenix City Council voted unanimously in early October to reopen parks and recreation facilities.
Mayor Gallego though, signaling Tuesday that the decision could soon be reversed.
In a statement she said:
“I am gravely concerned about COVID-19 in our community. With infections now at the second highest daily number ever, it is clear the status quo is not working. We all need to be aware that the public health situation has changed dramatically in the last few weeks.
At the next council meeting on December 2, we will discuss and act on urgent needs related to COVID-19 including more funds for testing, increased cleaning of city facilities, seeking continued advice from medical and public health experts, as well as policies regarding the use of sports fields.
In the meantime, it is critically important that teams participating in this weekend’s tournaments follow the extensive restrictions the city has put in place.”