Last week, the National Federation of State High School Associations released a 16-page action plan to help guide schools toward safely bringing prep sports back.
With COVID-19 bringing high school sports to a screeching halt earlier this year, there’s been little doubt the precautions taken to slow transmission would last beyond this summer. We just didn’t know how exactly that would work.
Now we have a little more insight.
On May 19, the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) released a detailed document meant to give guidance to its 51 member state high school associations — including our FHSAA — to help get the ball rolling on bringing back high school athletics and activities. The NFHS’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee developed the 16-page document and committee chair Michael Koester, M.D., said it’s more of a thorough list of ideas and suggestions state associations can pick and choose from than a hard set of rules its members must follow.
“We are greatly indebted to the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) for its work in formulating this guidance for re-opening high school athletics and activities,” NFHS executive director Dr. Karissa Niehoff said in a news release. “It is important to be clear that this is guidance for individual states to consider as they return to activities this fall. States will utilize the guidance in this document as it best fits their state after consulting with local and state health departments.”
Niehoff said the SMAC based its ideas on CDC recommendations and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee’s return-to-play considerations.
The 16-page document goes off of the fact that not all sports have the same level of transmission risk. While it would be extremely difficult to spread droplets from person to person in golf and individual running events, for example, it would be extremely easy to spread them in close-contact sports like wrestling and football. It also acknowledges that not all areas will be able to return at the same time, as some states have significantly more cases and spread than others.
“The NFHS SMAC recognizes that it is likely that ALL students will not be able to return to – and sustain – athletic activity at the same time in all schools, regions and states,” the SMAC said early in the “Guidance for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities. “There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held. While we would typically have reservations regarding such inequities, the NFHS SMAC endorses the idea of returning students to school-based athletics and activities in any and all situations where it can be done safely.”
Among its listed points of emphasis, the NFHS encourages the use of cloth masks when possible to lessen the risk of spreading droplets between athletes, even if cloth masks alone aren’t able to completely stop spread in the way medical-grade equipment can. The NFHS recommended masks be worn until “state and local COVID-19 prevalence decreases” and requirements for social distancing and public use of face coverings are eased or lifted. In its three-phase proposal — which is based off of White House recommendations — athletes would be encouraged to use masks or face coverings (if they prefer to wear any) in the first two phases and reduce their use in the third. All other personnel, like coaches and officials, could wear them through all three phases.
The document calls a second wave of COVID-19 later in the year a “near certainty” and suggests athletic associations prepare for more school closures and for teams to have to self-isolate for several weeks at a time mid-season. There is also a possibility that games and postseason events could be canceled outright, as they were this spring. The NFHS recommends setting up schedules that cut down on time spent traveling to help lessen the risk of having to reschedule games between teams in two different areas with two different phases of reopening.
Because there is still much more to learn about COVID-19, the NFHS is still reviewing testing regimens, mass gathering guidelines and responses to positive tests based on recommendations from the CDC and state and local health departments.
“Until a cure, vaccine or very effective treatment is readily available, or so-called ‘herd immunity’ is confidently reached, social distancing and other preventive measures such as face covering will be a ‘new normal’ if workouts, practices and contests are to continue,” the document said.
Each of the three phases includes recommendations for pre-workout screenings, gathering limitations, cleaning facilities, equipment use, physical activity (i.e. how much person-to-person contact can happen, if any) and hydration.
Sports have been divvied up into three categories based on transmission risk.
“Lower risk” sports are individual track and field events (running, javelin, shot put, discus), individual swimming events, golf, weightlifting, sideline cheer, cross country running with staggered starts and single sculling. Alpine skiing is also in this category, but good luck doing that in Florida.
Sports firmly in the “moderate risk” category include basketball soccer, water polo, ice and field hockey, swimming relays, girls lacrosse, crew with multiple rowers in a shell and 7-on-7 football. Sports in this category that could be reclassified to the “lower risk” category “with appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants” include volleyball, baseball, softball, gymnastics, tennis, pole vault, high jump and long jump.
“Higher risk” sports are wrestling, football, boys lacrosse, competitive cheer and dance.
Social distancing requirements are considered in the document across all aspects of the game, from team travel plans to sideline/bench seating and even to who should be allowed at events. Event attendance is also a three-tiered idea. Athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical and security personnel are considered “essential” and must be present. Media is considered “preferred” and could attend any events. After state and local health departments lift restrictions on mass gatherings, the third “non-essential” tier — spectators and vendors — would be able to attend events.
To view the entire document, visit https://buff.ly/2zlpROF.