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State government releases guidelines for resumption of youth, high school sports

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With North Carolina moving into phase 2 of Governor Roy Cooper’s reopening plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic Friday at 5 p.m., Cooper and NC Department of Health and Human Services Director Mandy Cohen released guidelines for the resumption of high school and youth sports on Friday.

The guidelines (recommendations, not requirements) apply to non-contact sports such as baseball, softball, tennis, golf and swimming, which will be allowed to resume under phase 2. The recommendation is for sports such as golf, baseball, softball, cycling, swimming, tennis and others that can allow for limited contact or use of the same equipment to resume. Contact sports such as football and basketball are not recommended.

The areas covered in the recommendations are social distancing and minimizing exposure, cloth face coverings, cleaning and hygiene, monitoring for symptoms, protecting vulnerable populations, combatting misinformation, water and ventilation systems and additional resources.

Some of the key points in the guidelines include:

  • Closing or marking off seating areas like dugouts and bleachers or other areas that encourage groups to gather
  • Clearly providing 6 feet floor markings on sidelines, waiting lines, and other areas where there may be a group of people
  • Holding workouts in smaller groups, with the same group always working out together to limit exposure
  • Coaches, officials, and others modifying communication and avoiding up-close, face-to-face communication
  • Providing separate, marked entry and exit points for spectators when possible
  • Providing hand sanitizer (at least 60 percent alcohol)
  • Wearing face coverings (provided by sports administrators) when not actively engaged in a physical activity
  • Promote frequent hand washing and cleaning of surfaces and equipment
  • Limit sharing of equipment
  • Have everyone bring their own water bottles (not to be shared)
  • Limit use of hydration stations
  • Provide individual boxes and bags of food, rather than buffet style, for shared meals
  • Have a plan for immediately removing anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms
  • Per CDC guidelines, if an athlete, coach, staff or participant has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is presumed positive by a medical professional due to symptoms, they should be excluded from sports program or activities until:
  • No fever for at least 72 hours since recovery (without the use of fever-reducing medicine) AND
  • Other symptoms have improved (e.g., coughing, shortness of breath) AND
  • At least 10 days have passed since first symptoms
  • Per CDC guidelines, if an athlete, coach, staff or participant has been diagnosed with COVID-19 but does not have symptoms, they should remain out of sports activity until 10 days have passed since the date of their first positive COVID-19 diagnostic test, assuming they have not subsequently developed symptoms since their positive test.
  • Require symptomatic athletes, coaches, staff and participants to wear masks until leaving the facility. Cleaning and disinfecting procedures should be implemented by designated personnel following CDC guidelines once the sick employee leaves.
  • Designating specific times for higher risk persons to access sports or workout facilities without the general population

High school sports in North Carolina have been on pause since March 13 amid the pandemic. The NCHSAA previously announced it would end its dead period for in-person activities on June 1, but that member schools would need permission from local and state governments to resume activities.

“We know that contact sports, like basketball or football, where you’re in each other’s personal spaces, where you’re breathing out respiratory droplets on one another, we know that is a higher way of spreading the virus as opposed to non-contact sports like tennis, baseball or individual sports like swimming or golf,” Cohen said during a Friday press conference. “Those non-contact sports, we said that it is fine to proceed from a recommendation perspective, but then we do have some guidance on how to do each of those activities safely. We’re not recommending contact sports go forward, but for non-contact sports to go forward but with some guidelines.”

The National Federation of State High Schools (NFHS) has also released guidelines (which state associations are not bound by) for resuming sports in three phases, with three different levels (low, moderate and high) of risk. Football is considered a high-risk sport, and the guidelines don’t recommend resuming those in phase 3.

NCHSAA officials plan to discuss a path forward with member schools, the board of directors and sports medicine advisory committee in the coming days, and a Zoom press conference with Commissioner Que Tucker is scheduled for Tuesday at 4 p.m.

“As stated by the governor, we have been in communication with the Department of Health and Human Services concerning next steps for a return to athletic activities across the state,” NCHSAA spokesman James Alverson said in an email statement. “Since we have not yet had an opportunity to discuss the guidelines mentioned by the Governor and Dr. Cohen with a broader audience in our membership, we will spend the next several days discussing options, opportunities and best practices for resuming activity with our board of directors and sports medicine advisory committee, in addition to other stakeholder groups such as principals, athletic directors, coaches groups, etc. These conversations will help us determine a more specific and detailed path forward.”

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