The Mississippi State baseball team bound for the College World Series hails from a state with the nation’s lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate.
And the Arizona Wildcats squad comes from a state that is averaging four times more COVID cases per capita than Nebraska.
Do Omahans have anything to fear from the invasion of fans from across the country for the CWS?
Fortunately, health experts are hopeful that Nebraska’s relatively healthy vaccination rates will prevent any major surge in cases here related to our annual celebration of college baseball.
But Dr. Mark Rupp, an infectious disease expert with the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said such statistics highlight the fact that travel and large gatherings do increase the risks of COVID-19 spread. The CWS combines both.
“People are going to be sitting shoulder to shoulder with people from all over the country they don’t know and who may or may not have been vaccinated,” Rupp said.
“If you are fully vaccinated and do not have (a health condition), you are going to be able to attend the event fairly safely, though not completely risk-free,” he said. “If you are not vaccinated, is it a bad idea to go? Yeah.”
Some visitors coming to Nebraska for the tournament likewise may be leery of the conditions here.
After all, Nebraska throughout the pandemic has never been big on mask mandates and other restrictions. Compare that to California, home of CWS qualifier Stanford, which only this week lifted many of its COVID-related restrictions.
But visiting fans may be relieved to learn that Nebraska has the third-lowest new case rate in the nation, behind only Vermont and South Dakota.
Nebraska also is among only three states that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider to have low levels of community transmission, based on its seven-day positivity rate.
Nebraska’s percentage of adult population with at least one vaccination shot also ranks 22nd among the states and about average nationally.
While global in scope, the COVID-19 pandemic has from the beginning been a very local event. Cases have surged and ebbed at different times around the country.
Cases have fallen dramatically across the United States since the vaccine rollout began in December. But case levels have remained uneven from state to state, and now vaccination levels are varying widely, too. That can be seen by looking at the latest data from states that are sending teams to Omaha for the CWS.
Most College World Series teams come from state with below-average vaccination rates
|STATE||Percent of 18+ population with at least one dose|
Among CWS team home states, the percentage of adults with at least one vaccine shot ranges widely, from 45.1% in Mississippi to 72.4% in California.
Case levels also vary wildly. California and Virginia both have case levels not much higher than Nebraska’s. Conversely, cases in Arizona, Mississippi and Texas are three to four times Nebraska’s.
“There are dramatic differences in community transmission and vaccinations among these states,” Rupp said. “I think the important message for folks here is people tend to be fairly parochial in their thinking on the pandemic, very focused on their own community. When you have an event like this that brings people together from all over the country, it really does create a potential for additional spread of COVID-19.”
The good news is that with the way cases have come down nationally, even the states with the highest current rates are at a fraction of what they were during the height of the pandemic. That, too, should help keep the CWS from being a COVID superspreader, Rupp said.
7-day COVID case rate per 100k population for CWS teams' home states
|STATE||7-day case rate per 100k population|
“I think everyone should be pleased with the rate of infection in the country coming down dramatically,” Rupp said. “I don’t think we will see the same nationwide outbreak we saw in the fall and winter that in our own locale threatened to overwhelm our health system.”
The other good news is that the teams coming to Omaha for the CWS are taking the virus seriously. The last thing they want is an outbreak that could threaten their bid for a national championship.
For example, every single member of the University of Texas’ team and traveling party for the CWS is fully vaccinated.
Texas athletics spokesman Kevin Rodriguez said throughout the season, the team has had some of the strictest COVID protocols in the Big 12 Conference, taking multiple buses on trips, mandating masks and not eating team meals together.
“With our team’s vaccination status, many of those restrictions have been relaxed,” Rodriguez said. “However, we are still taking proper precautions to ensure everyone’s safety.”