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Will mosquitoes impact H.S. sports more than COVID-19?

News item: Reports from the state's Agricultural Experiment Station say Eastern Equine Encephalitis numbers in trapped mosquitoes are "normal to below normal" thus far. Ah, good news for the upcoming high school sports season — if COVID-19 allows, of course — that at least for now, mosquitoes won't imperil the games our kids play as they did last fall.

It's the equivalent, however, of your favorite baseball team being in first place on Memorial Day. Long way to go. The dog days — insect days, in this case — are coming.

"As all this was coming down last year, we got more educated about EEE," Sen. Paul Formica said last week. "A friend of mine died from it last year. I was involved with the family. Sen. (Norm) Needleman (of Essex), because we were adjoining senators in our district, worked together (with Sen. Cathy Osten of Sprague) to get awareness out."

Formica said patrons at his business, the ever-popular Flanders Fish Market in East Lyme, yelled at him last fall when he closed outdoor seating at 5 p.m., over EEE-related concerns. He did not, he said, want to expose his staff to the danger. He's also well aware of what happened to the sports season. His four children played various sports at East Lyme High, hearkening his late wife Donna's timeless line about having "bleacher butt."

Formica and his colleagues secured money for 15 added testing sites throughout the state. As we've learned with COVID-19, however, more testing often reveals more cases. Imagine: If we're fortunate enough to find a treatment/vaccine for COVID-19 to play some sports, we might be inside again because of mosquitoes.

Formica's understanding is that spraying is most effective in the spring, the best chance to kill the larvae. So much for the best laid plans, however.

"We missed the deadline to spray for larvae," Formica said. "Some environmentalists don't want spraying because larvae are near marshes and wetlands. There are a lot of questions. Do we spray now as they're coming out? Wait till the fall when they're at their peak? The warm winter did not generate enough frost or freeze to kill a lot of the larvae. It might be a worse mosquito season than last year."

Formica said nothing's been determined about when spraying will begin. Consensus here is difficult.

"I don't know if mosquitoes are out in force enough for the spray to be effective right now," Formica said. "Then there's an argument as to whether spraying is really effective. And we don't have that chemical."

Formica alludes to Methoprene, a chemical Connecticut (and only Connecticut) has banned. Per Central Life Sciences, a business advocating "meaningful insect control scientifically developed with an environmental focus," Methoprene "is an effective tool used to kill mosquito larvae before they reach biting adults." Since it was banned in Connecticut five years ago, EEE cases have risen by 700 percent.

"We had some conversations and we've learned that we don't typically bring chemicals back," Formica said. "I said, 'yeah, but we don't usually have people dying, either."

This much we know: Formica is trying. Good thing. Because mosquitoes could hijack this sports season even worse than last.

Here's why: The state's current back-to-school plan calls for children to wear masks on school buses. However, if COVID-19 concerns mount, students may need to social distance on buses, meaning fewer kids on each bus.

That would require more buses to transport kids to and from school. More buses required after school reduces the likelihood of after-school sporting events. There would not be enough buses to transport teams to away games, leaving many varsity events to be played at night when more buses are available. The whole season would be imperiled if mosquito issues require kids and coaches to be inside by dusk.

It's really not getting any easier.

For now, though, at least Formica, Needleman and Osten are fighting the fight.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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