With all contests on hold since mid-March and spring sports championships canceled in Washington and Oregon, attentions have slowly shifted toward the future. Specifically, inquiring minds want to know if there will be high school sports again by autumn.
A path forward for prep athletes became just a little more clear this week when the National Federation of State High School Associations released a set of guidelines for returning to action in the fall. While the plan provides a map forward for sports the road back to Friday night lights looks like it could take longer than anything else..
The NFHS noted that their updates are intended to provide guidance for individual states as they work to figure out how best to move forward with safety in mind.
“States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments,” NFHS executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff said in a press release.
Elements of the NFHS guidelines will be oddly familiar by now. Those precautions include a three-phase implementation approach, allowing for the use of cloth face coverings by participants, regular testing for athletes and coaches, and conservative limits on spectators.
Sports were also put into categories based on their presumed risk for spreading COVID-19 through participation. Football, wrestling, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance were all listed as high risk sports by NFHS. Volleyball, soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball, and softball were all listed as a moderate risk, while individual sports like cross country, golf, swimming, track and field were all put in the lowest risk category.
The guidelines were developed by the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. That 15-member panel is made up of doctors, athletic trainers, coaches, officials, research specialists, and high school association executives. At this time specific testing protocol, hard limits on mass gatherings, and proper response for a student or team member testing positive for COVID-19 are still under review. The NFHS says they will make updates based on additional guidance from the CDC, state and local health departments.
During Phase One of the NFHS guidelines all coaches and athletes would be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and vulnerable individuals would be withheld from workouts. Team gatherings would also be limited to less than 10 people and locker rooms would be off limits. Additionally, the sharing of athletic equipment between coaches or athletes would be prohibited and cleaning schedules would need to be implemented for all athletic facilities. Lastly, face coverings would be acceptable during workouts but would not be required. No official contests would be allowed under the Phase 1 recommendations.
In Phase Two, screening for all coaches and athletes would continue while outdoors gatherings would be expanded to include up to 50 people. However, indoor gatherings would still be recommended to not exceed 10 people. Sports categorized as low risk would be allowed to resume contests while moderate risk sports would be allowed to hold modified practices. Additionally, only “essential attendees” such as officials, medical staff, and media, would be allowed to attend lower risk and moderate risk sporting events.
During Phase Three mass testing would be eliminated but anyone exhibiting symptoms of illness within 24-hours of a practice or contest would be discouraged from participating. Moderate risk sports would be allowed to resume normal practices and contests and modified practices could resume for high risk sports while up to 50 people would be allowed to attend events either indoors or out of doors so long as social distancing standards can still be met. A reassessment of health data and feedback from other states would then be used in order to determine a timeline for resuming competition in higher risk sports.
The complete document from NFHS can be viewed online at https://tinyurl.com/yd9a28g6.
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